Ted Cruz ‘imagines’ 2016 presidency in Liberty speech

Updated 1:28 PM EDT, Mon March 23, 2015
LYNCHBURG, VA - MARCH 23: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stands on stage while speaking to a crowd gathered at Liberty University to announce his presidential candidacy March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, Virginia. Cruz officially announced his 2016 presidential campaign for the President of the United States during the event. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Cruz announces candidacy in a video on Twitter

He follows up with a speech at Liberty University in Virginia

Lynchburg, Virginia CNN —  

Ted Cruz is first out the gate.

“These are all of our stories,” Cruz told the audience Monday, roaming around the circular stage at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia, opening his remarks by spotlighting his family history and his own path to Washington. “These are who we are as Americans. And yet for so many Americans, the promise of America seems more and more distant.”

Cruz drew on the past only to focus on the future, repeatedly and emphatically asking the Liberty University student audience to “imagine” the U.S. under conservative leadership – laying out his vision for the country and a Cruz presidency.

The senator from Texas, who burst into the national limelight with his staunch 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 Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – candidates Cruz coyly refers to as the “mushy middle.”

Monday’s event was the last part of a carefully coordinated media rollout, following Cruz’s announcement of his candidacy in a 30-second video message posted on Twitter shortly after midnight on Monday, roughly 24 hours after the Houston Chronicle first reported his planned announcement.

Ten thousand students from Liberty University crowded 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 states like Iowa and South Carolina that have early nominating contests. It was a youthful crowd, as students are required to attend the University’s tri-weekly convocation address.

Not all in the audience were guaranteed Cruz supporters: Several attendees sported red “Stand with Rand” shirts, repping Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who is slated to announce his candidacy early next month.

Jerry Falwell Jr., the university’s president and son of its founder and evangelical icon, introduced Cruz as a senator who “has gone against the tide” and a “man of great character,” all while stressing that the university does not endorse candidates for office.

Falwell picked up on Cruz’s assertion that millions of evangelical Christians did not vote in 2012, pointing out that “if any candidate can energize that group, it will make a huge difference in any national race.”

Asked after the speech how he prepared for the event, Cruz said he “spent some time in prayer” thinking about the message he wants to convey.

“At the end of the day it’s listening to the people about the vision for turning the country around,” Cruz told CNN, adding that he was “incredibly” encouraged and inspired by the support.

Sen. Ted Cruz brings his daughters, Catherine, right, and Caroline on stage during a walk-through for his announcement.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Sen. Ted Cruz brings his daughters, Catherine, right, and Caroline on stage during a walk-through for his announcement.

Cruz’s announcement came 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 marked the anniversary by pledging to repeal “every word” of the healthcare law as president.

Cruz also jabbed at Common Core education standards – which Bush supports – and repeated his pledge to abolish the IRS, instead suggesting Americans could file their taxes on a postcard.

And Cruz drew the longest and loudest applause from the audience when he prompted the audience to “imagine a President who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.”

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 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 Cruz has relatively strong favorability numbers. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, he is viewed in a positive light by 45% of Republicans, compared with 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.