WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - The event was over, but many of the 75 or so people who crammed the hotel conference room Thursday for the monthly gathering of the Williamsport Tea Party lingered, clustering around two guests from Bucks County.
Anastasia Przybylski doled out bumper magnets sporting the "Don't Tread on Me" flag while Ana Puig cradled an infant and urged his mother, an immigrant like Puig, to join the fight against President Obama and the Marxist blueprint she said he was following.
At the front of the room, Lee Fessler gushed: "Ana for president."
In less than three years, Puig and Przybylski, both 39, have rocketed from Doylestown stay-at-home mothers to nationally known activists, sharing stages with presidential contender Michele Bachmann, snagging money from conservative groups, and drawing a stream of invitations and inquiries from rally organizers, GOP stalwarts, candidates, and worldwide media.
The two-year-old Bucks group they co-chair, Kitchen Table Patriots, claims thousands of followers and credit for lifting Republicans Pat Toomey and Mike Fitzpatrick into Congress.
Ned Ryun, whose activist group, American Majority Action, enlisted and funded Puig and Przybylski when looking for Pennsylvania foot soldiers last fall, ranks them among the most influential tea-party members.
"I believe they present the right images of what the tea party is really about," Ryun said, adding that being young, articulate, and camera-friendly doesn't hurt.
But with the spotlight has come heat - and not only from the usual suspects across the political aisle. Critics within the movement and the Republican Party have challenged the pair's bona fides, questioning their tactics, motivation, and goals.
"They put themselves out there as if they are the leaders of Pennsylvania, and that bothered leaders of most tea-party organizations," said Sharon Cherubin, executive director of UNITE PA, a Lancaster group.
Przybylski said vicious, personal attacks from "cyber-bullies" pulled her so low this summer that she considered dropping out. Puig said she had been called a racist and terrorist, and now trusts almost no one.
As the tea party endures its growing pains, the "A.P.s" or "two Anas," as some call them, might just be Exhibit A.
"It's politics," said Amy Kremer, Atlanta leader of the Tea Party Express. "Politics is rough and tumble."
Both Anas are still stay-at-home mothers - between them they have seven children ages 3 to 12 - though these days that means sometimes juggling 16-hour days and travel demands with little or no pay. Both also say they have no plans to stop.
"One of the reasons I think we're being effective is we're taking so much heat from both the left and the right," Puig said. "So we must be doing something right."
Puig is the feistier of the two, quicker to unleash opinions, such as her belief that the left is aligned with radical Islam or that the country is barreling toward socialism because of an ignorant citizenry, ineffective or complicit media, and a leader she likens to South American despots.
"We've got to take Barack Obama out of the White House in 2012, or that's it - we might as well go home and hang it up," she told the Williamsport crowd.
A native of Brazil, Puig grew up in a conservative, military family - her uncle and grandfathers were Brazilian generals - and emigrated to the United States at age 14. She earned a college degree, became a naturalized citizen, and was working as a marketing executive before becoming a full-time mother.
Puig and her husband, a former U.S. Army captain and son of Cuban immigrants who now works as a security consultant, were living in Minnesota in 2008 when she said she decided to stop screaming at then-candidate Obama on the television and take action. She ranted on a talk-radio show and wrote opinion pieces in local newspapers.
Przybylski, who grew up in a reliably Democratic Bucks County family, had a similar awakening. In April 2009, she helped organize a tea-party rally in Washington's Crossing. Puig, who had recently moved to the area, asked to be on the agenda.
Przybylski read an advance copy of Puig's speech. "I was like, this is intense," Przybylski recalled. "She had Marxism, Marxism, Marxism."
After the event, they agreed to keep going. "I kind of thought, we can't just keep waving the flag at tea parties, we need to make a difference," Puig said.
A pointed question from Puig to Arlen Specter during a town-hall meeting on health-care reform that summer caught the attention of Fox News and other outlets. From then on, her profile rose.
Przybylski, who said she would have trembled at the thought of addressing 20 people on a street corner three years ago, last year spoke to thousands at a D.C. rally.
In recent months, the two Anas have become fixtures in Harrisburg, even registering as lobbyists. "We believe that if we can change Pennsylvania, we can have an impact in Washington," Puig said.
Rocco Pugliese, a veteran lobbyist, called their enthusiasm and work ethic a refreshing change. "They don't do what I do and what others do in this town of lobbying 24/7," he said. "They're like citizen lobbyists."
When Gov. Corbett named Puig to his transition team's education committee, Democrats pounced, highlighting Puig's attacks on Obama and claims that Democrats are aligned with radical Islam. The Kitchen Table Patriots' leaders "are extremists with beliefs and agendas well outside those held by Pennsylvanians," Mark Nicastre, a spokesman for state Democrats, said last week.
The pair have also drawn fire from other tea-party groups, particularly after they began collecting stipends from FreedomWorks, a Washington group that has pushed - sometimes with hardball political tactics - a bill for school tuition vouchers in Pennsylvania.
Other tea partiers opposed the strategy or the legislation and alleged that Puig and Przybylski misrepresented the tea party and what it stands for.
"If they choose to be the hired guns of FreedomWorks, that is their right," said Don Adams, who heads the Independence Hall Tea Party. "But they can't at the same time claim to be ordinary housewives leading a grassroots organization."
Even in Bucks County, the "A.P.s" have stumbled. Party veterans used a residency clause earlier this year to elbow Puig from the seat she had won on the Bucks County GOP committee. That was a year after local party leaders used an Election Day court challenge to halt the Kitchen Table Patriots from distributing sample ballots at polls.
Pat Poprik, vice chairman of the Bucks County GOP, said the Kitchen Table Patriots rubbed some members the wrong way with an inflated view of their influence.
"That's not the way it works in politics," said Poprik, a party activist for 35 years. "You don't start in the mailroom one day and the next day become editor of the paper. You have to work your way up."
Przybylski and Puig are undaunted. "We need to change the [Republican] Party locally," Puig said. "We need to infiltrate it."
She spoke over iced coffees at a King of Prussia cafe, the pair's first stop on a day that included lunch with a GOP broker, an invitation-only forum on the state's booming natural gas industry, and preparing testimony for a legislative hearing on school choice. As they talked, their smartphones chimed, buzzed, and whirred with messages, invitations and inquiries.
Both acknowledged their new roles had taken a toll on their families. They also said they had discovered a purpose and passion they didn't know existed.
"I'm a much happier person today," Puig said. "For me, it has switched from just being, 'I want to save the country on my spare time' to, 'I'm going to do this for life.' It's a commitment."