comments_image Comments

Talk radio reels them in at US conservative confab

Texas governor Rick Perry (R) shakes hands with Matt Bevin, a Tea party-backed US Senate candidate from Kentucky, while the two joined conservative radio host Dana Loesch (2nd L) on her show March 7, 2014, broadcasting from CPAC
Texas governor Rick Perry (R) shakes hands with Matt Bevin, a Tea party-backed US Senate candidate from Kentucky, while the two joined conservative radio host Dana Loesch (2nd L) on her show March 7, 2014, broadcasting from CPAC

When onservative radio host Dana Loesch takes to the airwaves with Republican White House hopefuls, the exchanges bear little resemblance to mainstream media interviews like those on CNN or NBC.

"You brought the house down!" she told a beaming Texas Governor Rick Perry on The Dana Show, broadcasting live Friday from "Radio Row" at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where Perry received a standing ovation from thousands of attendees minutes earlier.

"It was fun," he told Loesch's listeners.

When politicians address CPAC, they are kissing the ring of conservatives here to size up potential candidates who can best translate their vision into action in Washington.

Those same politicians then step off the stage and on to Radio Row, where they spread their message of fiscal restraint and individual liberty to millions of far-right faithful tuning in from the heartland.

After telling Loesch he will decide next year on his political future, Perry moved on to another broadcaster in an annual ritual at CPAC, where a line of open-air broadcast tables are occupied by dozens of radio shows unapologetically pushing conservative agendas.

Many others have come to pay their dues: Senator Mike Lee, 2012 and potential 2016 presidential hopeful Rick Santorum and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who started the Tea Party Caucus in Congress.

"It's a buffet of publicity for them, they love it," the 34-year-old Loesch, whose show airs in several states including Arizona, California, Georgia and Kansas told AFP.

Loesch, marketed as "the conservative alternative," had just wrapped up three hours of broadcasting from CPAC, held at a convention center just outside Washington.

"For the candidates, this is a way for them to have direct access to middle America," she noted.

Politicians are well aware of the draw; talk radio's undisputed king, Rush Limbaugh, has been described by Democrats as the leader of the Republican Party.

The industry is dominated by conservatives, who beam the far-right message, including their fear and loathing of President Barack Obama, into millions of American homes and cars each day.

Sponsors know the value as well. A major supporter of CPAC's Radio Row is Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the Koch brothers who stand accused by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of trying to buy the 2014 elections.

The hosts themselves have become celebrities. Mark Levin was mobbed at CPAC Thursday by fans clamoring for pictures with the conservative commentator who is among the most widely heard radio voices in America.

- 'Assassinating liberal lies' -

"It's huge," explained host Wayne Dupree, who earlier interviewed Allen West, the former congressman who has demanded Obama's impeachment.

The Wayne Dupree Show is almost toxically confrontational.

With his slogan "Assassinating Liberal Lies," Dupree acknowledges the goal is not to draw listeners from across the political divide.

"We might be talking to the choir, but we want you all to go out and get some more choir members," he said of his role.

Does it whip up audience anger? "In a way, yes," Dupree conceded.

"But not in a way to physically harm anybody. It's a way to wake (people) up. Look around you, your country is not the same as it was six years ago."

US demographics are indeed shifting. Polls show an increasingly polarized America, where liberals are gravitating to cities and conservatives are drifting in the opposite direction.

"It's a whole different mindset when you move out of the city and go to the suburbs," said Joe Messina, who broadcasts The Real Side every Friday to seven California stations.

Messina insisted he isn't bent on constantly picking fights with Democrats, and is open to differing points of view.

"I'm not a yeller, I'm not a screamer," he said. "You hear a lot of hosts do that."

Loesch navigates the choppy waters in between.

She has welcomed Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill on her show, and insists she will not give conservatives a pass just because they share her political views.

"I really could give a rat's ass about whether or not I have a good relationship with a politician," Loesch said.

"I just want a good story."