A day after missing a local candidate forum, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst visited Tyler to shake hands and take questions from base supporters.
Before the event, Dewhurst defended his absence as a scheduling conflict and said he has attended every debate and several forums, including a few that other candidates, including his most critical and close opponents, Ted Cruz, former solicitor general and Tom Leppert, former Dallas mayor, had missed.
His opponents railed on Dewhurst, who was represented by his campaign manager, Wednesday for not engaging opponents or voters.
Dewhurst said he has crisscrossed the state to engage voters.
“It's all about people, people, people,” he said. “We've consistently been before the Texas people answering questions.”
State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Michael Reagan, adopted son of former President Ronald Reagan, made the introductions.
Eltife said he has worked at Dewhurst's side during eight years in the state Senate and that he is a “proven successful businessman and conservative leader.”
“You need to support (Dewhurst) and get out the vote for him,” he said. “He never forgot northeast Texas as lieutenant governor, and he won't when we send him to the U.S. Senate.”
Reagan said he decided to step forward in support of conservative candidates he believes are capable of effectively ending Washington gridlock and effectively introducing change to the nation's present course.
He called liberals “termites” who have eaten away at the nation's foundation that revolves around personal freedom, responsibility and opportunity. Reagan said Dewhurst brings characteristics shared by his late father, politically and personally, that will make him an effective political negotiator and tactician.
At Wednesday's candidate forum put on by Grassroots America – We The People, a local conservative political action committee, Cruz led often with attacks on Dewhurst, painting him as an establishment, “timid career politician.” Cruz, an appeals attorney and former state solicitor general, touts his defense of the state from federal encroachment and conservative ideals.
Cruz has drawn favor with Tea Party conservatives by molding his candidacy into the anti-Washington establishment alternative to Dewhurst who has been lieutenant governor since 2003. Cruz has never held elected office.
“If you think I don't have a backbone or won't fight then you don't know me,” he said in response to Cruz's past comments.
The nine-candidate GOP ballot which also includes Glenn Addison, Craig James, Lela Pettinger, Ben Gambini, Curt Cleaver, Joe Agris, Cruz and Leppert could produce a July 31 runoff between the top two vote-getters.
The eventual GOP nominee will meet the winner of the four-way contest for the Democratic nomination in November. Former state Rep. Paul Sadler, of Henderson, is the most known and best financed among Democrats. Other Democrats running include Grady Yarbrough, Addie Dainell Allen and Sean Hubbard.