DALLAS — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney traveled to Texas on a fundraising mission Tuesday, the same day he was confronted with one of his biggest controversies since he won the nomination last month.
As he and his wife met with North Texas donors at venues including the home of former President George W. Bush and a ritzy Dallas hotel, Democrats took Romney to task for his comments that nearly half of Americans are dependent on government assistance and "believe that they are victims."
"This is a man who has a disdain for middle and working-class families," former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk said during a conference call set up by the Democratic National Committee. "Most middle-class Americans should be frightened."
But Romney's main focus in Texas appeared to be raising money.
Texans have already pumped more money into Romney's presidential campaign than anyone else's -- $13.45 million compared with $10.7 million given to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's brief GOP presidential bid and the $7.89 million given to Democratic President Barack Obama, according to data from the Washington, D.C.-based Centers for Responsive Politics.
And political observers say Texans will likely continue to give.
"Wealthy Texans have long understood the idea of buying access" to politicians, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "Large contributions out of Texas have been part of American politics for 80 years or more.
"They will continue to give -- the question is just in what amounts and with what enthusiasm."
Tuesday night, Mitt and Ann Romney appeared at a dinner at the Hilton Anatole for donors of between $50,000 and $100,000, and at a reception for people who donated less.
The Romney campaign reported that 500 tickets were sold for the events, which were sponsored by the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Introduced by T. Boone Pickens and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Romney said 23 million Americans are out of work and 47 million are on food stamps.
"That's a lot of people," he said. "These are not statistics. These are our brothers and sisters facing difficult times."
Romney said he would do several things to help the economy -- champion small businesses, reduce the deficit, educate children, create an effective trade policy and use oil, gas, coal, nuclear and renewable energy to achieve energy independence.
"The reason this economy is stumbling along, and so many people are suffering, is the president is trying to put in place something which is not the way America has ever worked before," he said. "I want to bring back America."
Earlier Tuesday in the Preston Hollow community, a six-car, police-escorted caravan pulled in shortly before noon as former first lady Laura Bush welcomed Ann Romney to a luncheon at the Bushes' home. The event was geared toward female supporters. The former president did not attend.
That event was likely intended to do more than just raise money.
"Former President Bush has been largely invisible over the last four years," Jillson said. "He didn't go to the conventions. He was reluctant to step out publicly and the Romney campaign was concerned about how he would be received. This is Bush's small way of being involved in this campaign."
State Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, joined Kirk in criticizing Romney's comments, secretly recorded in May.
"I was taken aback by comments Mitt Romney made at a fundraiser," Veasey said. "He's so out of touch that he doesn't understand."
Obama "understands the middle class" and is working to help everyone, Veasey said. He touted achievements Obama has reached during his first term but said, "We have much, much more to do."
Veasey is the Democratic nominee for the newly drawn Congressional District 33.
Konni Burton, vice president for the North East Tarrant Tea Party, defended Romney's remarks.
"There was nothing wrong with what he said," Burton said. "It sounded to me like he was answering a question regarding strategy ... and his message of lower taxes wouldn't resonate with that 47 percent of the electorate.
"What the Obama campaign is doing is parsing words so they can put their own meaning into it."
Burton said an old video was released Tuesday of Obama at Loyola University in which he said he believes in redistribution.
"There is no parsing of words," she said. "If anybody wants to be appalled at some words mentioned by a presidential candidate, they should be concerned about that. It's much, much worse. It's what he said and what he believes in."
Romney, who picked up endorsements from Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush as well as from Gov. Rick Perry after Newt Gingrich was out of the race, has found Texas to be a generous place.
Dallas residents have given him $2.9 million; those in the Fort Worth-Arlington area have given him $992,840, according to the Centers for Responsive Politics.
He has received about $20,000 from members of Fort Worth's Bass family -- including Ed, Lee, Mercedes and Ramona -- as well as thousands of dollars from members of Fort Worth's Moncrief family, including Charles B. and Richard W. Moncrief, and North Texas family members involved with Grubbs Nissan dealership.