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GOP U.S. Senate candidates to participate in series of tea party-led forums, organizer says

Nearly all of the GOP candidates for U.S. Senate have agreed to subject themselves to tea partiers’ scrutiny during a series of six candidate forums being organized by local conservative groups across Texas.

Spearheaded by Austin-based New Revolution Now (NRN), the “Tour of Texas Senatorial Forums” kicks off June 23 at the northwest Houston headquarters of King Street Patriots (KSP), and wraps up in Tyler on Oct. 22.

“They’re going to get questions they’re not going to get from the media and from the establishment,” said NRN’s Dean Wright.

“It’ll maybe make them a little uncomfortable. That’s kind of what we want to do. We want to make them think, to really challenge them,” he said.

Republicans Glenn Addison, Elizabeth Ames-Jones, Andrew Castanuela, Ted Cruz and Lela Pittenger have said they will participate in all six events — each of which is being managed by local conservative/tea party groups — while Tom Leppert has committed to three of the forums thus far, not including the Houston one, Wright said.

The only GOP candidate who hasn’t given a commitment is Roger Williams, he said: “They’re looking at the dates.”

Michael Williams is also on the list of GOP candidates, but has been looking at switching over to a campaign for U.S. House instead, according to news reports.

NRN has identified three potential Democratic candidates as well, Sean Hubbard, Ricardo Sanchez and John Sharp, none of which have responded to invitations, Wright said. He added that he had had trouble locating contact information for Sanchez.

KSP has drawn legal action and ethics complaints for hosting events featuring GOP candidates without extending invitations to Democratic or Libertarian opponents, as the Texas Independent has previously reported.

After the June 23 event in Houston, the San Antonio Tea Party will host a forum July 9 in San Antonio; the Austin Tea Party will host a forum July 30 in Austin; the Waco Tea Party will host a forum Aug. 13 in Waco; the Texas Tea Party Alliance and NE Tarrant Tea Party will host a forum Oct. 1 in Plano; and the East Texas Constitutional Alliance will host the final forum Oct. 22 in Tyler.

The capacity of the venues ranges from 200 to 700 attendees, and there are plans to broadcast the forums on the radio and over the Web, Wright said.

He said the format of the forums will vary depending on the hosting organization, but generally each candidate will field questions from a conservative panel posed by attendees and the panelists themselves. Each forum is expected to last about two hours.

“Each candidate will get different questions as we go through. It won’t be a debate format,” Wright said. “If it’s any kind of debate, it’s a debate with the grassroots and the panel members, as opposed to between the candidates themselves.”

While each event will have a “different flavor,” initial plans are to have four panelists from the grassroots groups and partnering organizations, such as the Liberty Institute and Americans for Prosperity.

“At the end of each forum, we’ll have a straw poll. We’ll be announcing the straw poll results soon after the forum ends, probably the next day. At the end of all the forums, we’ll combine the results,” he said.

The precise wording of the straw poll question hasn’t been decided yet, but it will be along the lines of, “Because of the answers they gave, who would you vote for today?” Wright said.

He said the groups are partnering to host the series featuring the U.S. Senate race in particular because it’s the biggest statewide office up for grabs in 2012. He said the local tea party groups have their own plans for downballot races.

“They’ll not only be vetting candidates but also putting forth candidates. There’s a huge movement going on right now to replace incumbents, some incumbents, that are in the Texas House and/or Senate,” he said. “You’re going to be seeing new grassroots candidates popping up and running against those incumbents that didn’t really meet the test of the tea party groups this time around.”

The Texas Independent recently reported on a conference call among conservative activists, as they prepared to lay the groundwork for efforts to replace GOP incumbents with more conservative candidates.

Regarding the U.S. Senate forum series, Wright said, “This is a collaborative effort among different tea parties around the state, and it’s real important for the grassroots to get involved. It’s an opportunity for the conservative grassroots to get involved, and as it looks right now, they’re pretty excited about it.”

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