ST. CHARLES, Mo. —Several hundred Republicans gathered Saturday at a suburban convention center with a newfound optimism for big election victories this fall. Under the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis, a nearly equal number of "tea party" activists simultaneously rallied for a conservative electoral surge.
Few participants from the two groups' gatherings overlapped. But Republican Party leaders are hoping to tap the energy of the tea party crowd to propel them to sweeping congressional victories in the November elections.
"I contend they are naturally our people," Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, Missouri's top Republican elected executive, said. "It is our task to earn their trust again."
Republicans were somewhat somber and smaller in numbers as they met a year ago in Kansas City following President Obama's election and Democratic gains in Congress. At this weekend's annual Missouri Lincoln Days conference in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, both the turnout and attitude were improved.
"I think you have a higher level of political interest right now — I think that's a good thing, and will be a good thing for us in November," said U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, the leading Republican candidate in this year's race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Kit Bond. The top Democratic Senate candidate is Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.
Missouri Republicans hope to capitalize on a general sense of frustration that drew thousands of people to town-hall health care forums around Missouri last summer and attracted thousands more to "tea party" rallies against big government, rising spending and ballooning national debt.
But it won't necessarily be any easy sell.
"Just because they say they're Republican doesn't mean squat to me," said William Holland, 48, of Jefferson County, who held a "Don't Tread on Me" flag at the tea party rally on the concrete steps leading from the Mississippi River to the Arch.
Political rhetoric won't be enough to get his vote either, Holland said. This year, a candidate must somehow demonstrate that he or she is for less government spending and lower taxes, he said.
It was a coincidence that the Republican Party and tea party activists were meeting on the same day barely 20 miles apart. The riverside rally was scheduled exactly a year after the first St. Louis tea party event. And the Republican Party holds its statewide conference on a February weekend each year.