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Cruz kicks off presidential campaign at Christian college

Associated Press logoAssociated Press 3/23/2015 By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press

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LYNCHBURG, Va. — Lest there be any doubts that Sen. Ted Cruz will be aggressively courting cultural conservatives, look at where the Republican chose to begin his 2016 presidential campaign Monday: the flagship campus of the nation's largest Christian university.

Cruz announced his White House bid early in the morning, on Twitter, hours before his kickoff speech at Liberty University, the college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. A familiar stop for presidential hopefuls, the selection is meant as a marker against potential rivals who are also counting on Christian conservatives to fuel their ambitions.

On Monday, became Cruz the first high-profile Republican to enter the 2016 contest officially even though, like others, he has been campaigning in all but name for many months. A man in a hurry, he got ahead of his announcement speech with a tweet after midnight and a flashy video previewing his campaign.

"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 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 launches soon.

For his start, Cruz was bypassing his 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.

Ted Cruz: FILE - In this March 10, 2015, file photo, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington. Cruz plans to announce Monday, March 23, 2015, that he is running for president. © AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File FILE - In this March 10, 2015, file photo, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington. Cruz plans to announce Monday, March 23, 2015, that he is running for president. By getting in early — and at Liberty — Cruz 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 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.

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Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott.

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