The energy filling the Reno Events Center on Saturday converged into one concept: change.
About 2,000 delegates, guests and county officials gathered at the 2008 Washoe County Democratic Convention to declare their presidential preference and to elect among themselves those who will go on as delegates to the state convention in May.
"We've never had this kind of turnout," said Matthew Dickson, treasurer of the Washoe County Democratic Party. "Democrats are ready to lead the way for the course of the country."
Looking out across the room, Dickson said the delegates, many of whom waved signs and sported buttons on their shirts, would be the ones to make a difference for the upcoming election.
"What strikes me the most about this room is that it represents a diverse cross-section from the caucus," Dickson said, identifying and recognizing teachers, labor union representatives and young college students, a surprising demographic that has shown a stronger interest in this election.
In between listening to speakers, watching videos and learning about how a county convention works, the spirited crowd cheered for the two most likely candidates: Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama. Both present a strong challenge to win the affections of their constituents.
Statewide, more than 10,000 Nevada Democrats held county conventions, which are the second step toward dividing Nevada's 25 pledged delegates to the National Democratic Convention between presidential Clinton and Obama.
But, Dickson said, with the delegates' support, either Clinton or Obama can "lead us to victory" through reform in major issues, including education, health care and foreign affairs.
In the morning, the initial Washoe County delegates representing the candidates numbered 505 for Clinton, 697 for Obama, 65 for John Edwards and 11 undecided. But with Edwards recently dropping out of the race, his supporters were left scrambling to choose between the two frontrunners. Delegates were invited to change their vote if they found the other more appealing.
After the confusion of the Jan. 19 caucus, about 35,000 registered voters changed their registration to the Democrats. Of the 117,000 total from all caucuses, 1,710 delegates were chosen to attend the county convention, including alternates.
Dickson said Saturday that Washoe County is eligible to send 561 delegates to the state convention, which also will be held in Reno, on May 16 and 17. At the state level, three delegates — one male and two females — from Washoe will be selected. The national convention will be held in Denver, Colo.
The convention was also a chance for a platform committee to debate the most important issues to local Democrats. The contentious areas including homebuyer plans, immigration and reproductive rights.
Dickson shared with delegates that Democrats controlled Congress for 12 consecutive years until the Republicans reclaimed it in 1996. Beginning with the Bush administration in 2000, the nation began seeing record deficits and earmarks for special funding due to a very costly war in Iraq, Dickson said.
The spirited crowd listened to Nevada Democrats who are currently serving, including Sen. Harry Reid, congressional candidate Jill Derby, Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall and others, all of whom resonated the central thought that change is necessary for 2008. The year holds special meaning for some party members as eight is typically associated with a "new beginning."
"There's a wind of change blowing here and all over Nevada because things must change," Reid said.
Reid said the election offers an unprecedented situation for America.
"We will have either the first woman president or the first African-American president," Reid said. "My favorite part about them is their hearts. They serve the American people. They are both winners."
Derby said she'd been talking with frustrated citizens who want to restore values to the White House and their state.
"America is asking us to lead," Derby said. "2008 will bring victory, hope and confidence."
Marshall appealed to the crowd, telling them of the positive effects she and her staff have had in restoring the treasury.
"When we entered the state treasury, files were missing, papers had been shredded and even the furniture was gone," Marshall said.
But Marshall alluded to a recent finding of $40 million in savings from unclaimed property and bond accounts that will help alleviate Gov. Jim Gibbon's budget shortfall.
"We turn things around," Marshall said. "Nevadans want change."
The Washoe County Republican Convention will be held March 15 at the Peppermill Hotel in Reno.