The two White House hopefuls from Texas sought to lay their claim Saturday to religious voters in South Carolina, rallying thousands outside the state Capitol with fiery references to biblical scripture and a country that has lost its way in the eyes of God.
It was one of the few opportunities so far in the 2016 election cycle to see U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry appeal to an early-voting state audience without having to share the stage with the rest of the massive GOP field. The pair of Texans headlined the event, named the Pro-Family Rally, and in separate speeches linked their Christian credentials with promises to be a disruptive force in the White House.
For Perry, that involved a direct comparison to Jesus Christ, an "outsider" in his own right.
"He saw corruption in the temple, and he got angry about it and he did something about it," Perry told an estimated 9,000 people in Columbia. "He went in there and he overturned the tables of the money changers."
Perry continued: "He saw corruption, just like today we need somebody that’s got the backbone to go to Washington, D.C., and turn over the tables of the money changers, of the corruption, of the greed, that we see in Washington, D.C."
More broadly, Perry appeared to aim to resonate with voters fed up with Washington in a summer defined by the anti-establishment fervor of Donald Trump, the unorthodox businessman sitting atop national polls. At one point, Perry repeated the word "angry" six times throughout two sentences, assuring listeners their emotions were not misplaced because Jesus felt the same way.
Cruz, meanwhile, stuck to a somewhat more familiar script, presenting himself as on the front lines of the major issues important to religious voters. He was particularly outspoken against abortion, evoking the "merchants of death" seen in a series of undercover videos that purport to show questionable business practices at Planned Parenthood locations. "They are confessing to multiple felonies," he added. (Planned Parenthood officials have condemned the videos, which portray their executives discussing fetal tissue procurement, saying the recordings were heavily edited to mislead the public.)
Forecasting a potential showdown when Congress returns from its August recess, the senator warned congressional leadership against paying lip service to renewed efforts to weaken Planned Parenthood.
"No show votes, no empty votes," Cruz said. "Stand up and lead and defund Planned Parenthood today."
Cruz also sounded many familiar notes from a highly touted rally he hosted last week in Iowa that spotlighted Americans who believe they faced persecution for their religious beliefs. "If you think your faith is safe, next may be you," Cruz told his South Carolina audience, reviving the central message of the Des Moines rally.
And like he did in Iowa, Cruz bemoaned how many Christian evangelicals sat out the last presidential election — 54 million, by his count. "We will stay home no longer," Cruz bellowed at the Pro-Family Rally, asking if it is "any wonder we have the country we have when believers are not honoring the commands of Scripture" and making their voices heard.
Both Texans are currently completing campaign swings through South Carolina, spending at least parts of their weekends in the state. Before the rally Saturday morning in Columbia, Cruz filed for the South Carolina GOP primary ballot.
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.