LANSING (AP) -- As the Tea Party Express made its way across Michigan, hardly an event took place without a Republican gubernatorial candidate -- or several -- getting in a word.
Attorney General Mike Cox energized the crowds at six out of the 10 stops last week with his vow to fight the new federal health care changes. Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra and state Sen. Tom George addressed a tea party rally in Macomb County's Clinton Township on the need to lower taxes, and some spoke at earlier stops.
Yet not all the candidates are cozying up to the tea partiers.
As the tour made its way from the Upper Peninsula to the Detroit suburbs, former Gateway CEO Rick Snyder was absent. The Ann Arbor venture capitalist is not expected to attend any of Thursday's Tax Day protests around the state, including one that's expected to draw thousands to the Capitol lawn.
Campaign spokesman Jake Suski said Wednesday that Snyder was out of town part of last week and isn't out of sync with the tea partiers or trying to avoid them.
"While he hasn't been formally involved, a lot of the motivations that drive people to get engaged in these grass-roots organizations are motivations he shares," Suski said. "He's been focusing on his Reinvent Michigan tour, and he absolutely will consider and plans to attend tea party events in the future."
Grassroots in Michigan leader Joan Fabiano, who traveled on the Tea Party Express bus and will be at Thursday's Capitol rally, said it was "unfortunate" Snyder couldn't address one of the events last week. She said he's passing up an opportunity to engage more voters by missing the rallies.
"He's rather new to politics and it's a chance for some name recognition and for people to have an opportunity to get to know him," she said.
Cox will be at the podium, speaking at Tax Day protests in Lansing and Port Huron. Although the appearances could help raise his profile in the governor's race, he was invited as the Michigan attorney general.
His decision to join at least 12 other attorneys general to challenge the constitutionality of the federal health care plan is a big hit with tea partiers and small-government activists. It was the major reason he was asked to speak during the national Tea Party Express tour.
It's hard to tell if Cox's frequent appearances before the tea partiers and Snyder's absences so far will make a difference in the Aug. 3 primary election, according to William Rustem of Public Sector Consultants, a nonpartisan Lansing think tank. It's still unclear how many of the activists will take their grievances to the ballot box, and they may not all stick to the GOP primary.
Although none of the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates -- Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, House Speaker Andy Dillon or state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith -- attended any of last week's Tea Party Express stops, Rustem said Bernero's message could attract some Michigan tea partiers.
Bernero "is appealing to the anger in people," especially over the bailouts that went to banks and Wall Street firms, Rustem said.
Hoekstra campaign spokesman John Truscott said the rallies being held by tea partiers and tax protesters give candidates an easy way to introduce themselves to voters.
"I would expect a lot of these people to be showing up in the primaries of both parties. They have the potential to change some elections," he said.
Bouchard's campaign tied his "Freedom from Taxes Tour" to the tax protests, kicking it off last Friday in observance of the day some groups say marks when the average American worker has worked long enough to pay annual taxes. Bouchard plans to wrap up his tour Thursday at several Tax Day protests.