LYNCHBURG, Va. – Sen. Ted Cruz, the conservative firebrand from Texas, on Monday became the first Republican to announce his campaign for the presidency.
“I’m running for President and I hope to earn your support!” Cruz said in his tweet, which kickstarts a crowded Republican field that until now has been going through preliminary motions only.
The Texas senator, who burst into the national limelight with his opposition to Obamacare and his willingness to shut down the federal government, presents a direct challenge to the expected bids of establishment Republicans such as Jeb Bush.
As part of the carefully coordinated media rollout, Cruz announced his candidacy in a 30-second video message posted on Twitter shortly after midnight Monday morning, roughly 24 hours after the Houston Chronicle reported the announcement.
Cruz amplified his late-night tweet with a speech Monday at Virginia’s Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world, opening with spotlighting biographical stories of Cruz’s parents and his wife Heidi.
“These are all of our stories,” Cruz told the audience Monday, roaming around the stage to speak to different corners of the crowd. “These are who we are as Americans. And yet for so many Americans the promise of America seems more and more distant.”
Ten thousand students from Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world are crowding into the university’s main arena for Cruz’s announcement.
The venue choice at this socially conservative campus aims to give Cruz an early boost among evangelical voters, who will be key to boosting presidential hopefuls in early states like Iowa and South Carolina.
It’s a youthful crowd as students are required to attend the University’s weekly convocation address.
Not all in the audience were guaranteed Cruz supporters: A noticeable number of participants were wearing red “Stand with Rand” shirts, repping Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who’s also considering a presidential bid.
Cruz’s speech focused on the future, laying out his vision for his campaign and the future of the country, and repeatedly asking his audience to “imagine” a Cruz presidency. While Cruz has spent chunks of his time in the Senate clashing with establishment Republicans, the aides said Monday that Cruz won’t spend any time bashing establishment figures.
Cruz’s announcement comes on the five-year anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which Cruz has fought in the Senate to repeal. Cruz will mention the anniversary, but the law will not be the focus of his speech, according to Cruz aides.
Cruz, 44, is the first candidate to formally throw his hat in the ring for what’s expected to be a crowded GOP primary, with more than a dozen high-profile Republicans expressing serious interest in a White House run.
“It’s a time for truth, a time to rise to the challenge just as Americans have always done,” Cruz said in his video out Monday morning over clips of American landscapes and people. “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.”
The Houston Chronicle reported Saturday that Cruz would declare his candidacy on Monday, skipping the step of forming an exploratory committee, according to advisers with direct knowledge of his plans.
Cruz’s advisers envision a three-pronged strategy that focuses on dominating the tea party faction and competing in the libertarian and Christian conservative circles. A candidate who can lead in all three groups will offer a prominent alternative to what Cruz has dubbed the “mushy middle” in the past, a veiled reference to candidates like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker who’ve lined up with more establishment Republicans and are popular in the donor class.
A constant and vocal critic of the Obama administration, he’s perhaps best known for his stalwart fight against Obamacare in 2013, which led to a tense standoff between Democrats and Republicans and ultimately resulted in a 17-day government shutdown. The showdown was punctuated by Cruz’s 21-hour speech on the Senate floor.
While popular in conservative and tea party circles, Cruz has a long way to go in terms of broader support in the GOP base, according to public opinion polls. A CNN/ORC International survey conducted this month of the hypothetical Republican primary showed Cruz came in with 4% support among Republicans and independents who lean Republican.
But the field is still relatively open, with the top contender — Jeb Bush — coming in at 16% support, followed by Scott Walker at 13%.
But he has relatively strong favorability numbers. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, Cruz is viewed in a positive light by 45% of Republicans, compared to only 8% who don’t have a favorable opinion of him. Still 46% say they haven’t heard enough about him to form an opinion.