Explaining away these perceived moments of moderation will be key to Leppert's chances of securing the Republican nomination. Dewhurst is also viewed by some as insufficiently conservative, but the longtime lieutenant governor enters the race as the prohibitive favorite thanks to his wide name identification, deep pockets and close ties with many of the state's wealthy donors and political leaders. Cruz, on the other hand, has generated a considerable amount of buzz among national conservatives.
In order to compete, Leppert knows he needs to introduce himself to more Texans.
"We start with a very strong base in North Texas," Leppert said. "Clearly our challenge is to get awareness in other parts of the state."
His goal is to make it into a runoff for the GOP nomination, assuming no candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary. In a hypothetical match-up with Dewhurst in a runoff, Leppert said he could cut into Dewhurst's lead in name recognition. Thanks to recent changes in federal election law, there would be more than two months in between the primary and runoff in 2012, giving voters more time to familiarize themselves with the last two candidates standing.
If Leppert manages to emerge as the nominee, he is confident he will prevail in the general election. Despite a surge in the state's Hispanic population, Leppert said he does not think Democrats are in a position to win a statewide race next year. He said has not seen retired Army General Ricardo Sanchez, the only declared Democratic candidate, on the campaign trail and was unfamiliar with his political beliefs until he jumped into the race.
But for now, Leppert's focus remains on courting the state's conservative voters and communicating his message of fiscal responsibility. And he has already succeeded in convincing at least one voter that he is no moderate.
"My wife says that I'm the most conservative person she knows," he said.