LONDON, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Janet Sproul, originally from Seattle but now in London, voted for President George W. Bush in 2000. But that was then. Monday night, amid hundreds of cheering expatriate U.S. Democrats at an overcrowded room in the Bloomsbury Holiday Inn, she cast her vote for Democratic frontrunner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
"I thought Bush was the right choice four years ago, but I've gotten to loathe the guy," said Sproul. "I really don't like his stand on the Middle East and especially going to war with Iraq. Kerry looks like the guy to beat him."
In unprecedented numbers, it seems, American Democrats abroad are coming out to make their feelings known back home, united by a determination to defeat Bush in November. They don't get much of a say in what the Democratic National Committee decides -- nine delegates with full voting privileges and seats compared to the 154 delegates from Michigan alone -- but they are treated the same as any other state delegation, and with a potential 7 million Americans living abroad, their voice does carry some weight.
What is particularly stirring the expatriate American Democrats this election year, however, is that in being regularly exposed to the attitudes of their host nations many find themselves embarrassed by their president to a level they haven't felt before.
"Its not so much anti-Americanism I sense here as it is Bush being an alienating factor (in foreign attitudes)," said Bailey Kasten, 20, of Wilton, Iowa, a student from the American University in Washington who is now at the college's London campus and who supports former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
"There are a lot of angry people here tonight," said Rachelle Valladeres, international chairwoman of the Democratic Party Abroad, who had to change the venue of the London caucus to accommodate at least twice the number originally expected. "It's the same everywhere. We haven't had such a surge in interest in the organization's 40-year history."
Some 156 Democrats showed up Sunday at a meeting room at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo -- almost twice the number expected and four times more than in 1996 and 2000. Six hundred attended a caucus in Paris where no more than 300 had been expected.
London, with probably the world's largest concentration of expatriate Americans, traditionally has the largest number of active Democrats and Republicans.
To the crowd of more than 600 Democrats who were spilling over two large rooms at the London caucus, Valladeres said: "Democrats are really, really energized. This organization has more than doubled in size in the last 12 months.
"We've got branches in parts of the world we've never had before. Austria (as a branch) didn't exist four weeks ago. We've got 68 people in Armenia -- I didn't know we even had any Americans in Armenia! South Africa, Malawi, Kenya and the Cameroon have started up in just the last two months. We've had caucuses in Bosnia, Korea, Colombia."
Excited by their first taste of election-year voting, the crowd somewhat chaotically handed in paper slips to produce a first straw poll. They then divided into candidate caucuses to pick the frontrunners. There were too many people to see the five-minute video appeals from each of the candidates, so statements or letters were read out instead.
Among those present was Lou D'Allesandro, state senator from New Hampshire, who was North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' campaign manager in that state.
"The Democratic campaign is beginning to resonate," he said. "Bush has done more to destroy the goodwill the world has for America than any president in history, and I think this is beginning to sink in domestically."
Kerry's pitch to the crowd was delivered by his cousin, Laura Winthrop, a student at Oxford, who read not a statement from the Massachusetts senator but a letter on his behalf signed by 30 U.S. ambassadors around the world declaring it was urgent for Americans to restore the nation's international credibility.
But it was domestic, not foreign, policy that stirred Dean supporter David Merrill to come out to vote for the first time since 1992.
"If Bush gets re-elected, I fear he will have so changed the basic social structures of America there won't be any way back (for such things as social security)," said the 50-year-old Oxford tutor, originally from Boston. "Dean is very supportive of rescinding Bush's tax cuts and he seems to have energized the campaign."
The straw poll showed that of 552 acceptable ballots, Kerry came first with 299 votes, Dean with 105, Edwards with 60, Wesley Clark with 55, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, with 26 and non-campaigning Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., with three.
By the end of the evening, Kerry had enough votes to send 17 delegates to the final Democrats Abroad worldwide caucus in Edinburgh, Scotland, in late March. Dean had seven delegates and Edwards six. The Edinburgh caucus will sort out nine delegates from 37 countries to send to the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July.
The straw poll results from caucuses reporting from 12 countries over the weekend showed that Kerry was the clear favorite in all but three countries. Japan went 52 votes to 43 for Dean; Sweden and Switzerland were balanced between Dean and Kerry; France, like Britain, went heavily for Kerry, 310 to Dean's 87.