GREENVILLE, S.C. – William Barret Travis was the man of the hour at a presidential contender forum on Saturday — 179 years after he perished at the Alamo

Both U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry invoked the Alamo’s commander, a South Carolina native, in their remarks at a gathering of Palmetto State conservatives. But that was the end of the two Texans' stylistic similarities.

Cruz earned the auditorium’s most thunderous applause of the day, so much so that the event’s host, U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, noted the crowd seeking to shake Cruz’s hand.  

“Wow, he’s been called a rock star, but he actually acted like one there, didn’t he?” Duncan said to the audience about Cruz.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

In addition to the two Texans, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson spoke at the forum. 

Cruz continued his trademark flame-throwing at President Obama and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. But he also telegraphed that he was ready to engage with his fellow Republicans.

He brought up controversies over religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas and accused unnamed rivals of siding with “big business” over free speech.

“Indiana was a sorting moment,” he said. “As Reagan would say, ‘a time for choosing.’”

“There are candidates running in 2016, even candidates in the Republican field who, when Indiana was being battled, they were nowhere to be found,” he added.

Asked at an ensuing news conference about the comments, Cruz indicated that the campaign is likely to take a more rough-and-tumble turn.

“As the election goes on, things may turn less than pleasant. Other candidates might choose to gut in the gutter. I have no intention of reciprocating,” he said. “So I will not engage in personal attacks. But I do think it’s perfectly legitimate to focus on records.” 

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Perry is typically more averse in criticizing other candidate in his speeches. But on Saturday, he railed on Obama’s policies. 

With air first pumps and nearly shouting into the microphone, Perry said: "Let’s let America be America again!"

Perry called the president's foreign policy naive and angrily criticized the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' troubled recent past. 

More and more this year, presidential contenders like Cruz are shirking the podium when delivering their remarks. Instead, they pace the stage in a manner like Joel Osteen, the Houston pastor.

But Perry held onto his dais as he remembered the Alamo’s South Carolinian defenders.

“It’s good to be in South Carolina. Texans are kind of fond of South Carolina,” he said. 

“Y’all sent us a little help, back through the years, in Texas. There were a couple of heroes at the Alamo that you all loaned to us for a little while,” he added, referring to Travis and James Bonham. 

“We appreciate that.”

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Attendees welcomed the remarks by both Cruz and Perry, but Cruz's energy certainly made its mark with many in the crowd.

Linda Henderson, of Anderson, S.C., a semi-retired doctor’s office employee who attended the forum, found both interesting.

“I’m a big fan of Ted Cruz. It’s not that I’m not a fan of Rick Perry’s. I am,” she said. “His delivery is a little different.” 

“I think I have to listen to him talk more to get used to his delivery,” she added. “But it’s very enthusiastic, and I enjoyed it.”

Perry, who has not officially announced his candidacy, is struggling to break through the crowded candidate field, but he is winning points in local areas campaigning in town hall appearances in Iowa, New Hampshire and in South Carolina.

Travis also figured in Cruz's address, which sought to tie the Alamo commander's stand to a choice that faces many today.

“It was a century and a half ago that South Carolina sent William Barret Travis to the state of Texas,” Cruz said. “It was a century and a half ago when colonel William Barret Travis drew a line in the sand and said chose where you stand. Do you stand with freedom or do you stand with death? Give me liberty or give me death.”

Cruz also addressed the incident last Sunday night in Garland where two men shot a security guard outside a contest featuring cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

“We saw the ugly face of Islamic terrorism in my home state of Texas,  in Garland where two jihadists came to commit murder,” he said. “Thankfully, one police officer helped them meet their virgins.”

Cruz was the biggest source of interest at the event, which was sponsored by the conservative group Citizens United.

Part of that dynamic could well be because a handful of major candidates and contenders did not attend: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. 

Even so, Cruz left an impression. 

“Cruz was by far the best,” said Jamie Pavey, an undecided event attendee.

“I’m still trying to decide,” the retired executive assistant added. “I’m from Wisconsin, so I’m kind of leaning toward Walker, but it’s way too early to form an opinion.”

Get The Brief

Never miss a moment in Texas politics with our daily newsletter.