There are only 669 registered Democrats in Storey County, and by most accounts they’ve been demoralized for years. But 47 of them showed up for the presidential caucus at the Delta Saloon on Valentine’s Day, an unusually large turnout.

So what’s got Democrats this fired up?

If the Storey caucus in the Comstock Lode mountain town of Virginia City is any indication, it’s the same thing that national political reporters have reported in one state after another as the primaries and caucuses have moved across the time zones—a powerful antipathy toward President George W. Bush.

Storey County was once seen as a little fiefdom in the hills where the same familiar names and families dominated local politics year after year, but people retiring to the Comstock and the upwardly mobile young have become more of a factor.

Among those who signed in at the caucus, for instance, was a woman who commutes from Virginia City to her bookstore job in Reno, a graphics designer who 25 years ago was on the UNR Sagebrush newspaper staff, and a former Sparks member of the pipe-fitters’ union who retired to the Comstock.

The traditional base could still be seen at the caucus, though. For instance, former Assemblyman Angelo Petrini, who owns the Delta and served in the Legislature from 1960-66, was at the caucus with his wife, Joan.

County Democratic Chairman George Foster (he’s the retired Sparks union member) opened the caucus, explaining the voting process. The Democrats attending the meeting had to declare their presidential candidate preference when they signed in but were not bound by that declaration. The whole purpose of the caucus is for the Democrats to work together to come up with the best candidate.

Ballots were passed out, filled in and dropped in a ballot box (a cardboard Office Depot photocopy paper box with a slot in the top). At that point a snag developed. Some of the Democrats wanted to speak for their candidates and throw the meeting open for debate before the vote. Foster circulated among the Democrats asking, “Would it change your vote if we were to have a discussion of the candidates?” In the end, the meeting was opened to a discussion, and the first ballots went into the trash can behind the bar.

One Storey Democrat, Peter Kraemer, spoke up for candidate John Edwards, the Carolina senator. He said George Bush is an appealing guy and the Democrats need a candidate with comparable charm to compete. He also argued that Edwards was willing to make the case against the Bush family’s millionaire connections and its use of the war to further the business interests of Bush cronies.

One participant spoke against Kerry, saying that the Drudge Report was floating stories about Kerry and women. This led to some confusion, since few of the Storey Democrats had heard of the online political-gossip page.

Foster spoke up for Kerry: “He knows the cost of war, and that cost is not just money. … When he came home from the [Vietnam] war, he rallied people against the war, and I think that’s a point in his favor.”

Younger veterans—those closer to Kerry’s own age—and younger voters were more skeptical and were troubled by Kerry’s vote for the Iraq war. One said it made no sense for Kerry to have opposed the 1991 Kuwait war but then support the Iraq war. One participant recalled how he had been inspired by Kerry’s 1971 congressional testimony against the Vietnam War: “I liked where he stood in ’70 and ’72, but I am not sure I like where he stands now.”

As the dialogue went around the room, it was clear that there was sentiment for the front runner and that Edwards had benefited from having someone speak up for him.

When the vote was retaken, Kerry was the easy winner: Kerry 36, Edwards 7, Kucinich 2, Dean 1. Al Sharpton was also listed on the ballot but drew no votes. One participant voted “uncommitted,” and there were no write-in votes.

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...