ST. LOUIS — Mary Jane Corcoran has participated in plenty of tea party events around her home in suburban Dayton, Ohio, but none were like the gathering she attended Sunday in St. Louis.
Corcoran was among an estimated 10,000 people gathered in the sun beneath the Gateway Arch for one of three "9/12" rallies aimed at generating patriotism a day after the ninth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The others were in Washington and Sacramento, Calif.
For Corcoran, the 360-mile trip was worth it.
"When you're used to your local tea party with 40 people, it's nice to get together with a lot of people that feel the way you do," Corcoran said. "This is like a shot in the arm to get us going for the November election."
Many at the St. Louis rally carried flags, or signs with messages like "We're Not Your ATM," or "You Can't Fix Stupid. You Vote 'Em Out." Some wore T-shirts expressing concerns about big government or criticizing President Barack Obama and other Democrats.
The location was the same place where the local tea party movement got started, with a February 2009 dumping of tea into the Mississippi River.
The St. Louis rally had the air of a late-summer festival, with booths selling lemonade, meat on sticks, T-shirts and other souvenirs. A band, dressed in powdered wigs and 18th century clothing, belted out KISS's "I Want to Rock 'N Roll All Night." One speaker after another criticized big taxes, big spending and what some called a government out of control.
Among them was Dick Morris, the political commentator and former presidential adviser. He predicted Republicans would gain 60-80 seats in the House in November and take both the House and the Senate.
"You are saving the United States of America," he said. "You are sweeping that reformed, rededicated and reconstituted Republican Party back into power."
Not everyone at the rally was Republican. A few carried signs in support of Ron Paul. Corcoran said she's not a Republican, but supports conservative candidates.
"I've sort of gotten away from being a Republican or a Democrat," she said. "I'm just a conservative."
David Renner came even further than Corcoran — the unemployed 31-year-old oil field engineer made the 900-mile trip from Denver.
"I'm sick of the spending in Washington and the power grab," Renner said.
Deborah Mueller, 53, of St. Clair, said she supports the tea party movement because she feels America is losing its way.
"I want my country back like it used to be," she said beneath a giant "Don't Tread on Me" flag. "There's too much spending. Morals are gone. We've all been asleep for years. Time to wake up."
Saint Louis University political scientist Ken Warren said Americans over the past several years have had a growing frustration with government. The tea party, he said, is a natural outgrowth of that frustration.
"The distrust with government is in its failures — Katrina, bungled wars, the decline of the economy, and the inabilities of government to resolve these problems," Warren said.
Warren believes the movement will help Republicans in the short run.
"But the long-term impact will be devastating for Republicans because what they're doing is forcing Republicans to move to the right, and Americans are simply not right-wing," he said. "They're going to lose the center."