"It is the time for truth. It is the time for liberty. It is the time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States," Cruz said.
Cruz's speech had the feel of a sermon at a megachurch, with the candidate wearing a wireless microphone and walking around a stage while delivering his remarks. He discussed the humble background of his parents, how his wife is the daughter of missionaries and how he took out $100,000 in student loans that he only paid off a few years ago. He talked about the power of the American dream and harnessing the grassroots to propel his campaign forward.
"I want to talk to you this morning about reigniting the promise of America," he said.
The speech embraced the goals of Christian social conservatives, military hawks and small-government tea partiers and illustrated the broad Republican coalition he is hoping to assemble. The location of the announcement, at an evangelical college, showed that Cruz hopes to mobilize young people behind a campaign that will start at the back of the GOP pack - but a position advisers said they feel good about because they can build upon by aggressively courting the conservative base.
An adviser to Cruz said the speech was meant to highlight the optimistic side of Cruz, which often gets lost amid his reputation as a Senate bomb-thrower. It's an approach that Cruz will continue on the campaign trail as he looks to accentuate a positive message of moving America forward and uniting conservatives behind his campaign. At the same time he will continue to position himself as someone who has, and is willing to, take on both parties and is uncompromising in his beliefs. Cruz has called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the abolition of Common Core education standards, and has been skeptical of climate change.
Cruz had technically already announced his candidacy with a tweet sent early Monday morning, part of a targeted multi-day rollout by the campaign. They had considered announcing online only. Cruz decided about a month ago to declare here at Liberty, underscoring that he has been assiduously courting evangelicals and conservatives who are frustrated with Republicans in Washington and young people.
"I'm running for president, and I hope to earn your support!" he wrote just after midnight. That made Cruz, who has been in the Senate since 2013, the first major presidential contender to formally declare himself a 2016 candidate. It followed several months of fervent -- but entirely unofficial -- jockeying by Cruz and a large field of other Republican hopefuls.
On Monday, Cruz said it again, even more officially, in person, at the convocation ceremony at Liberty University, a required event for students enrolled there.
"We stand together for liberty!" Cruz said. "This is our fight. The answer will not come from Washington....[It will come ] when the American people stand together, and say, 'We will get back to the principles that made this country great.'"
Cruz began his speech with a discourse about his parents, describing his mother's childhood in Delaware and his father's escape from Cuba. He drew from their stories lessons about the power of Christianity -- which Cruz said he convinced his father to return after abandoning his family -- and about American freedom. His father's experience in Cuba, Cruz said, had taught him "how fragile liberty is."
The student audience was buoyant, cheering like a concert crowd when Cruz mentioned their home states (Texas, California, Delaware) or Virginia icon Patrick Henry, or his own student-loan debt, or the idea of abolishing the IRS.
They booed loudly when Cruz mentioned President Obama's health-care law, which was signed five years ago today.
Cruz moved around the stage, urging students to imagine scenarios in which conservative ideals prevailed on a variety of policy issues. Imagine no "Obamacare." Imagine no Common Core education curriculum.
"Instead of a federal government that works to undermine our values, imagine a federal government that works to defend the sanctity of human life, and to uphold the sacrament of marriage," he said, focusing on evangelical priorities as well as secular conservative ones. Instead of a government that works to undermine our Second Amendment rights -- that seeks to ban our ammunition— imagine a federal government that protects the right to keep and bear arms of all law-abiding Americans."
Cruz drew parallels with moments in American history: the American Revolution, the Great Depression, the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. He said Reagan helped win the Cold War and revive the American economy.
"Compared to that, repealing Obamacare and abolishing the IRS ain’t all that tough," Cruz said.
Earlier, Cruz showed his savvy for the modern media world, managing to make the announcement of something entirely unsurprising -- that he is running for president -- into four separate news events.
First, his campaign announced a major speech, which many suspected would serve as his announcement. Then, his team leaked the news that the speech was, indeed, his announcement. Then came the tweet. Now, for television, he will go through the familiar ritual of a candidacy launch: a speech, a crowd, his family, American flags. Photos taken by the AP on Sunday showed Cruz doing a rehearsal for his announcement on a stage at Liberty, walking hand-in-hand with his daughters and kissing his wife.
Cruz's official entry seems likely to throw the 2016 presidential race into a higher gear. By announcing early, Cruz intends to seize the attention of tea party-aligned voter and big donors--beating conservative rivals like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and neurosurgeon Ben Carson to the punch. By announcing at Liberty, founded by fundamentalist icon Jerry Falwell, Cruz is also hoping to attract evangelical voters who might also be interested in slower-starting candidates like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.)
The Harvard and Princeton-educated lawyer, 44, was first elected to the Senate in 2012. He is best known for championing controversial efforts to block implementation of President Obama's health care law in 2013 that included a 21-hour filibuster on the Senate floor -- a crusade that helped lead to a 16-day government shutdown.
He previewed his strategy while speaking to groups in early primary states and at the Conservative Political Action Conference a month ago, describing a grassroots movement that spreads nationwide his message of staunch conservatism, including a hawkish foreign policy and opposition to same-sex marriage. He's called on voters to participate in a "grassroots guerrilla campaign" modeled on the one that propelled him to a long-shot Senate victory.
“The only way we’re going to make this happen is by building a grassroots army in New Hampshire and in all 50 states,” he said last week in Lincoln, N.H.
Cruz's campaign is looking to raise $40 to $50 million for the primary race. The campaign has a goal of raising $1 million by the next April 1 filing deadline and has moved $250,000 over from the Senate to the campaign side. The campaign is also buying digital advertising early so it can give Cruz greater name recognition in early voting states.
He has talked about harnessing small-dollar grassroots donations, as he did during his Senate race, and can also draw from a base of conservatives nationwide who have supported him in Congress. Cruz also has some top-dollar donors ready to help, including Hal Lambert, founder of Dallas-based Bridge Point Capital.
Cruz supports fewer restrictions on campaign spending. "Money absolutely can be speech," he said last week in New Hampshire.
Cruz lives in Houston with his wife and two young daughters. His wife, Heidi, is a managing director at Goldman Sachs and will take a leave of absence to campaign with her husband.
Fahrenthold reported from Washington.