Now a lawyer in private practice, Hatfield still crosses paths with the couple. He and David have mutual friends, and he has worked with the treasurer's office on behalf of clients. "She's surprising," he says of Sarah. From a distance, Hatfield says she seems pugnacious. "That whole thing with 'We're not going to invest in terrorist companies,' it looks like she's going out of her way to start a fight." Up close, he says she's unassuming. "Interpersonally, she's not quite as aggressive as some politicians you'll run into."

Hatfield concludes: "I haven't quite figured her out."

As a six-year-old in 1964, Sarah and her family rang doorbells for Barry Goldwater. John Hearne raised his three children in the conservative cause, and Steelman remembers the volunteer-run bookstore her father opened after Goldwater's landslide loss to Lyndon Johnson. "I remember going up to The Freedom Center," she says, before ticking off authors in the store's collection: William F. Buckley, as well as the more obscure Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.

At home, Hearne liked to host political discussions with Sarah's neighborhood friends, Democrats included. "I've always been able to appreciate other points of view," she says. But Steelman did not deviate from her father's influence. In 1976 she tagged along with him to the state convention. "I actually got to meet Ronald Reagan then," she remembers. As a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1980, she led a few of her Pi Beta Phi sorority sisters to Iowa for a weekend working a phone bank for Reagan. "It's really pure, grassroots Republican politics that I've been interested in," she says.

Her brother Tom Hearne notes that while they were growing up, Democrats dominated state government, as well as Jefferson City society. He thinks that's why his sister comes across as a right-wing populist. "Growing up in that environment made me, and I suspect Sarah, appreciate the people who've always been on the outside a little bit, looking in."

Steelman chose to announce a second run for treasurer from her parents' Jefferson City kitchen. In a speech recorded by the Missourinet radio network, she called the Hearne home a "magical" place, where a ten-year-old girl was welcome to participate in political discussion. "We didn't discuss polls and triangulations. We discussed ideas. We dreamed and debated about where they might take a people, a nation."

Seated at the kitchen table and reading from a script, she said, "It's a different kind of politics than what has become the norm today. It's a politics that brings me here today, not to tell you that I want to hold an office, but that I want to be your partner. Together we can put the power back where it belongs."

Behind her, relatives unfurled a banner with the slogan: "Power to the people."

The party faithful pack into The Columns banquet center in St. Charles on a Friday night in February to hear their leaders give patriotic speeches and crack jokes about Democrats. "Barack Obama managed to carry Missouri, despite Claire McCaskill's endorsement," Governor Matt Blunt says of his former opponent. "Who would've thought Claire McCaskill would endorse the candidate of youth and inexperience?" A slide show playing on the back wall highlights Republican accomplishments: the number of abortion clinics reduced from ten to three, and "NO NEW TAXES" among them.

A Republican candidate's late-winter calendar is full of Lincoln Day dinners like this, but one cannot afford to skip St. Charles. A populous Republican stronghold, the county delivered 59 percent of the vote to George W. Bush in 2004.

In the room full of dark suits, Hulshof's faded-copper hair and round, boyish spectacles are easy to spot. Tossing his head back in laughter, he stands just beyond a gauntlet of kids who are itching to put campaign stickers on anyone who wanders past. Later, Hulshof will give a rousing speech full of poignant imagery: his cotton-farmer father's weathered hands, his uncle Francis exchanging salutes with the first President Bush, and a young war veteran saluting Reagan's casket with an amputated arm.

A former economist and stockbroker, Steelman lacks Hulshof's lawyerly ease in front of a live audience. In St. Charles, she relies on a script. She begins the speech by relating a conversation she had with her son Michael after one of his basketball games. "What is winning, Mommy? What's the definition?" she recounts. "It's not you becoming governor. Winning is making Missouri a better place to live."

Steelman goes on to talk about her record: "I am proud to be pro-life," she says, reminding the audience that as a state senator in 1999 she cast the deciding vote to ban "partial-birth" abortion. The bullet-point draws applause, but the extra attention only seems to make her more nervous. Steelman recovers her poise once she's back in familiar rhetorical territory: "It is the governor's job to fight and work hard for the people of this state. I'm committed to doing that with all my strength."

Later, Steelman says she lost her place in the script, and she regrets using one. "I'm embarrassed that I did so poorly that night." She says she performs better with few notes. "We've had a running discussion about that in the campaign."

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