Sen. Ted Cruz Becomes First Republican To Announce Presidential Candidacy

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Texas Sen. Cruz became the first official candidate for president in the 2016 election Monday. In a speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Cruz said, "God isn't done with America yet."

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The first official candidate for president in 2016 launched his campaign today. It's Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a tea party favorite, whose no-compromise approach has at times angered some in his own party. Cruz is trying to stake out a position as the most conservative of the GOP White House hopefuls.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports the venue for Cruz's first event signals the kind of campaign he can be expected to run.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Typically candidates kickoff their campaigns in their home state. If not there, than Iowa or New Hampshire. But instead of geography, freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz went for symbolism.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUR GOD")

CHRIS TOMLIN: (Singing) Our God is greater. Our God is stronger.

GONYEA: This was the Monday convocation at Liberty University, which calls itself the world's largest Christian university. A live gospel rock band played. Convocation takes place three days a week in the basketball arena, and students are required to attend, so it wasn't exactly a big campaign rally. But still, this was no typical day on campus.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR TED CRUZ: God bless Liberty University.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: That's how Senator Cruz opened. He worked the stage, walking back and forth, not unlike a televangelist. And his message included family history: his father's journey from Cuba and eventual marriage to an American woman; and how his Dad eventually found God. For 30 minutes he spoke, interweaving faith with politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CRUZ: God's blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation. And I believe God isn't done with America yet.

GONYEA: The word imagine was a recurring device. Imagine, Cruz asked, a flourishing economy instead of a stagnating one. Imagine a flat tax and abolishing the Internal Revenue Service. He noted that the president signed the Obamacare law five years ago today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CRUZ: Imagine in 2017 a new president signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: And in an attack on the president's foreign policy - a favorite topic among conservative Republicans - support for Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CRUZ: Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: It's horrible.

CRUZ: ...Imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: That line generated the single biggest cheer of the speech. Then an invitation to join his efforts, saying a real conservative can win the election.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CRUZ: And that is why today I am announcing that I'm running for president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Again, this wasn't a Cruz rally, but he had plenty of fans on hand, like Liberty University senior Becky Barker who was hoping to meet him.

BECKY BARKER: I really love that he is identifying with his faith. A lot of times politicians can shy away from defining themselves as saying, yes, this is what I believe; I am for the unborn or I am for the correct definition of marriage.

GONYEA: The audience was also dotted with students wearing T-shirts showing their support for one of Cruz's likely rivals, Senator Rand Paul. Also here, 18-year-old freshman Nicole Genge who says she doesn't think Cruz is the best person to take on Hillary Clinton.

NICOLE GENGE: Honestly, I would go for somebody more middle-of-the-road just because I think they would have a better chance of winning everything. Because they could persuade either side and they wouldn't cause as much controversy.

GONYEA: Cruz hopes getting in first will get him some extra attention. He can use it since early polls have shown him struggling to emerge. But look for others to follow suit and have their own big announcements in the coming weeks. Don Gonyea, NPR News in Lynchburg, Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.