Tuesday was the first of several forums planned in advance of the GOP primary for Illinois governor.
Three of the candidates, state Sen. Bill Brady, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sen. Kirk Dillard attended the Will County Tea Party forum in Plainfield, but the front-runner -- Bruce Rauner -- was a no-show.
An empty chair was placed on stage for Rauner, who asked that a surrogate read an opening statement for him, a request that was denied.
The questions ranged from jobs to education.
Brady said he plans to abolish the State Board of Education if he's elected governor.
Rutherford was asked about his views on same sex marriage.
"I think we need to be very sensitive about this kind of a discussion. Is it perfect to be in a world that has a man and a woman bearing their natural-born child? Sure it is. But it isn't a perfect world we live in," Rutherford said.
Dillard was asked about Rauner's claim that union bosses control politicians.
"I've taken money from the Operating Engineers, that's a private union, and they're concerned, and they support me because they believe I'm the best candidate," Dillard said.
Earlier this week, Rauner said all of the attention he's receiving and questions about using clout to get his daughter into Walter Payton Prep stem from his high poll numbers.
"I'm an independent guy, I can't be bought, bribed or intimidated," Rauner said.
Rauner initially said he would only attend five public forums, but has now changed his mind and will also attend an extra one later this week.
After the forum, a straw poll was taken that included Rauner's name. The results will be announced Wednesday morning.