What on God’s green earth has gotten into the Wilkes County (NC) Democrats? Here it is, the first pretty April Saturday of a snowy, blowy spring. There’s yards to mow, balls to toss, plants to plant, Blue Ridge Mountains to hike–all of which you’d think would be mighty tempting on Democratic convention day in a place where Republicans have a damn near two-to-one edge. “Welcome to red-hot Republican territory,” says Dick Sloop, a career-military retiree turned antiwar protester who’s the new county Democratic chair. “We’ve been like the homeless around here: silent and invisible. The best we ever did in my lifetime, we had two Democrats once on a five-seat county commission.” Even here in western North Carolina, where Republicans have proliferated since the Civil War (when the woods were full of Union sympathizers rather than pro-lifers), Wilkes County–Bible-thumping, economically slumping–has stood out for its fire-and-brimstone conservatism. It’s been a stiff challenge to find folks willing to run against the Republicans. Hell, it’s been rare to hear anybody publicly admit to being a Democrat. “You’ve got a lot of people in this county who probably couldn’t tell you if they’ve ever met one,” Sloop says. But in a scene playing out this year all across “red America,” from these lush hills to the craggy outcroppings of the Mountain West, previously unfathomable crowds of Democrats are streaming up the steps of the old county courthouse, past bobbing blue balloons and Welcome Democrats! signs. They’re hopping mad about the national state of things but simultaneously giddy with a new-found hope–finally!–for their party.