"It's funny, because I used to have the worst stage fright," she says shortly before taking the mic in Michael Savage's absence. "When I was little, I'd do dance competitions where I'd run right off the stage. It was legendary. Horrible stage fright. Awful. That's why I never in a million years thought I'd be doing radio."

Ten days before Christmas, Loesch (pronounced lash) decides to make an impromptu appearance at a midday rally outside the local office of Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, or "Claire Bear," as Loesch sometimes refers to her. The midweek protest is the first Loesch has attended since summer, primarily because of her children's home-based academic schedule.

"I used to take them with me, but then you think, ugh, if somebody were to not be cool or something were to happen — ugh," she says. "Liam will watch for a while, then start asking people questions, like, 'Why did you just say that?' When we were in Arnold when [President Barack Obama] was here to speak, somebody drove by us, hollered and stuck out their middle finger. Liam yelled back, 'That's not very polite!' That's when I started rethinking it. I mean, it'd be great if everybody minded their p's and q's at these things, but — and I do think kids do learn about the right to assemble — if anything were to happen when I had them out there with me? No way."

Jamie Allman recalls Loesch's skepticism about joining his show. Before long he took to calling her "our own Sarah Palin."
Jamie Allman recalls Loesch's skepticism about joining his show. Before long he took to calling her "our own Sarah Palin."

It's the beginning of a frigid spell in St. Louis, but Loesch forgoes her coat, instead layering up underneath a new Tea Party sweatshirt. The crimson hoodie bucks her usual black or charcoal monochrome, but seeing as the Senate is nearing a vote on healthcare reform, the splash of color fits the day's battle cry: "CODE RED."

"Is that Dana? Are you Dana?" gushes a middle-aged woman as Loesch steps onto the Delmar Boulevard median. "I'm so glad you got on Greta [Van Susteren]'s program! I'm so thankful she acknowledged you, and we got all that support for our movement!"

The blustery weather calls to mind the day a year ago February 27, when Loesch and a St. Louis software engineer named Bill Hennessy summoned area conservatives to the Gateway Arch to throw teabags into the Mississippi River. "We honestly didn't know if anybody would even show up," Loesch recalls. A rebuke of increased taxation and big government, the demonstration coincided with others around the nation and became the first of many so-called tea parties.

Loesch was tapped by cable news networks to commentate the town-hall meetings concerning healthcare this past summer. She made headlines for helping to organize a "buycott" of Whole Foods in support of its libertarian CEO and drew praise and scorn for speaking out against President Obama's September back-to-school address.

In October Loesch took an interest in a three-way congressional race in northern New York, where the Democratic nominee faced a challenge from a dark-horse conservative candidate, Doug Hoffman, and a moderate Republican endorsed by the GOP, Dede Scozzafava. Loesch created and fed a website, www .dumpdede.com, which Hoffman's campaign staffers say was a factor in eventually causing Scozzafava to drop out of the race. (Though Hoffman lost, Tea Partiers across the country claimed victory: Even a Democrat is better than a "RINO," or Republican in Name Only.)

Some liberals reserve special scorn for tea partiers, even employing the sexually suggestive "teabaggers" term to deride their m.o. Yet a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed the Tea Party movement is more popular than either the Democratic or Grand Old party.

Loesch has appropriated some of the name-calling, frequently describing herself and Hennessy as "co-extremists" and "co-conspirators." There's no denying their group has become one of the most active in the United States, according to the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition. Meanwhile, conservative activity in historically liberal St. Louis has mushroomed.

At the rally outside McCaskill's office, organized by a local chapter of the religious public-policy group Concerned Women for America, Loesch commends the "creative" pageantry. One woman hands out "Obama barf bags." Another shows off a poster bearing a medicine bottle and the words, "Obamacare: Take one rectally every day." "I want to go up to the door and prescribe it for them," the woman says with impish glee. "And my husband's a minister!"

Activist Michelle Moore is live-streaming the event via laptop and webcam. Adam Sharp is videotaping footage that he'll upload to his blog. Loesch posts a photo to Twitter for her 7,000-plus followers. Later in cyberspace, everyone will link to each other's websites.

"One of the funny things about protests," says Loesch, "is they kind of turn into fellowship. You have all these different groups who get to meet up and talk to each other."

Before long Loesch crosses the street, megaphone in hand, to address the crowd of several dozen. "They can close their shades, but we all know McCaskill's ratings in Missouri have dipped!" she yells to a chorus of yays. "The biggest thing about this legislation isn't the debt that's coming. The biggest thing is that you will be fined and/or jailed for not choosing this legislation!"

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