(UPDATED March 23, 2015 at 9:54 am CT) -- LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has opened the first major campaign of the 2016 presidential season with a kickoff speech courting cultural conservatives.
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.
Cruz addressed his religious faith, his father's Cuban roots, and declared: "For so many Americans the promise of America seems more and more distant."
He says his mission is about "reigniting the promise of America."
A familiar stop for presidential hopefuls, the selection of Liberty University is meant as a marker against potential rivals who are also counting on Christian conservatives to fuel their ambitions.
LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Sen. Ted Cruz showed he was a candidate in a hurry early Monday morning, announcing his presidential candidacy on Twitter just after midnight, several hours before the official launch at the college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Monday morning.
The Texas Republican's choice of Liberty University for Monday's speech indicates he plans an aggressive courtship of cultural conservatives and young voters.
Cruz became the first high-profile Republican to officially enter the 2016 contest even though, like others, he has been campaigning in all but name for many months. Ahead of his speech, Cruz turned to social media and tweeted: "I'm running for president and I hope to earn your support!"
In a flashy video that accompanied it, Cruz offered a preview of his nascent campaign's message.
"I believe in America and her people, and I believe we can stand up and restore our promise," Cruz said in the web video as images of farm fields, city skylines and American landmarks and symbols played in the background. "It's going to take a new generation of courageous conservatives to help make America great again, and I'm ready to stand with you to lead the fight."
Cruz's decision to launch at Liberty University, a familiar stop for presidential hopefuls that calls itself the world's largest Christian college, is meant as a marker against potential rivals who are counting on Christian conservatives to fuel their ambitions.
Cruz is not expected to be the sole 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 announcements soon.
For his start, Cruz was bypassing 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, 44, was hoping to claim ownership of the influential and incredibly vocal corner of the Republican Party for whom cultural issues are supreme. It was a move aimed 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. It also had a potential impact on Cruz's contemporaries, including 43-year-old Rubio and 47-year-old Walker.
Cruz's father, a pastor, is also expected to help the 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. But, like other presidential prospects, he's been coy about what he's doing. That coyness ended Monday when he jumped 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 down 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 choose to run for re-election in 2018, having broadened his national network of allies and donors during this presidential campaign.
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.
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