LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Sen. Ted Cruz opened the first major campaign of the 2016 presidential season Monday with a kickoff speech courting cultural conservatives and declaring that he will devote himself to "reigniting the promise of America."
One of several Republican hopefuls to rise from the tea party movement, Cruz spoke at Liberty University, the college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, hours after a wee-hours tweet announcing his White House bid. The choice of the college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell was meant as marker against potential rivals who are also counting on Christian conservatives to fuel their candidacies.
Cruz addressed his religious faith, his father's Cuban roots and his unquestioned conservative credentials, saying "for so many Americans the promise of America seems more and more distant."
And he asked the enthusiastic crowd to "imagine a president that finally, finally, finally secures the borders."
"Imagine a simple flat tax," he said. "Imagine abolishing the IRS."
He spoke on the fifth anniversary of President Barack Obama's health care law — legislation that prompted Cruz to stand for more than 21 hours in the Senate to denounce it in a marathon speech that delighted his tea party constituency and other foes of the law. Cheers rose in the hall when Cruz reminded the crowd Monday that Liberty University filed a suit against the law right after its enactment.
"God's blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation and I believe that God isn't done with Americans," Cruz said. "I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is that is why, today, I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States of America."
Cruz, a divisive figure in his own party, is not expected to be the sole GOP contender for long. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and two Senate colleagues, Kentucky's Rand Paul and Florida's Marco Rubio, are eyeing campaign launches soon.
For his announcement, Cruz bypassed Texas, which he represents in the Senate, as well as early nominating states such as New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney kicked off his own campaign for the GOP nomination in 2012, and Iowa.
By getting in early — and at Liberty — Cruz was hoping to claim ownership of the influential and highly vocal corner of the Republican Party for whom cultural issues are supreme. It was a move at crowding out figures such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, and former Sen. Rick Santorum, who has made his Catholic faith a cornerstone of his political identity.
Cruz's father, a pastor, is also expected to help the 44-year-old first-term senator make inroads with these voters.
Cruz is already a familiar figure on the circuit for presidential hopefuls, having made repeated visits to the early voting states, the big conservative activist conferences and more. This month, for example, he met party activists in New Hampshire, which hosts the leadoff primary. It's just that, like other presidential prospects, he's been coy about what he's doing. That coyness ends Monday as he jumps full in.
By announcing what has long been obvious, Cruz triggers a host of accounting and reporting requirements about money he is raising and how he is spending it. To this point, he had operated his political organization through a non-presidential committee that worked under different rules. By officially joining the race, he now operates under a more stringent set of rules, including being able to accept fewer dollars from each supporter.
Following his election to the Senate in 2012, the former Texas solicitor general quickly established himself as an uncompromising conservative willing to take on Democrats and Republicans alike. Criticized by members of his own party at times, he won praise from tea party activists for leading the GOP's push to shut the federal government during an unsuccessful bid to block money for President Barack Obama's health care law.
The son of an American mother and Cuban-born father, Cruz is positioning himself to become potentially the nation's first Hispanic president. While he was born in Canada, two lawyers who represented presidents from both parties at the Supreme Court recently wrote in the Harvard Law Review that they think Cruz meets the constitutional standard to run.
Should he fail to win the nomination or the presidency, Cruz would retain his Senate seat through 2019. He also could elect to run for re-election in 2018, having broadened his national network of allies and donors during this presidential campaign.