ORLANDO, Florida — Sen. Ted Cruz on Friday was swarmed by fans at CPAC who showered him with adoration usually reserved for former President Donald Trump.
They shouted, “We love you!” and “Love you, Teddy!” A crowd of several dozen coalesced around Mr. Cruz as he emerged from the main ballroom after delivering a speech on fighting for liberty.
“He’s the best,” gushed a young woman in the crowd.
“This man is fighting for us,” said another woman, Virginia Hewett, 67, a corporate trainer living in Florida.
She later said she would back Mr. Cruz over Mr. Trump if they both ran for president in 2024.
“I love Trump but Trump has a limited number of years,” she said. “Let’s be honest. Look at Biden. Is it the White House or old folks’ home?”
The sentiment challenged unflinching devotion to Mr. Trump that was on display at the annual gathering of conservative activists.
The conference hosted by the American Conservative Union resembled a Trump convention. Attendees donned masks emblazon with “Trump: I’ll be back.” Some wore cowboy hats inscribed with the message “Trump country.”
Mr. Cruz is thought to be exploring another presidential bid in 2024 and is among several possible contenders testing their appeal with the Trump faithful in Florida this weekend.
Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, has long had a strong following at CPAC. He won the CPAC presidential straw poll in 2016 before he was trounced by Mr. Trump in the primary race.
Still, the emotional outpouring for Mr. Cruz this year topped the gawking and selfie-seeking encountered so far by other political heavyweights strolling through the convention center.
Some of Mr. Cruz’s fans said he burnished his reputation by backing pro-Trump challenges to the 2020 presidential election.
Others eyeing 2024, such as Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, did the same.
“Most Republicans I want to send a pair of brass balls or a truss because they either lack a backbone or don’t have any balls,” Ms. Hewett said. “When everyone else was wimping out, [Mr. Cruz] was the one who was standing up. Everyone says he was standing up for Trump but he was standing up for the people — for us.”
• Seth McLaughlin reported from Washington.