LYNCHBURG, Va. (CBSNewYork/AP) –Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has opened the first major campaign of the 2016 presidential season with a kickoff speech courting cultural conservatives.

Cruz announced his presidential candidacy on Twitter just after midnight, several hours before the official launch at Liberty University, the college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

He addressed his religious faith, his father’s Cuban roots and his unquestioned conservative credentials, saying “for so many Americans the promise of America seems more and more distant.”

Ahead of his speech, Cruz turned to social media and tweeted: “I’m running for president and I hope to earn your support!”

In a flashy video that accompanied it, Cruz offered a preview of his nascent campaign’s message.

“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’s announcement makes him the first candidate from either party to officially throw his hat in the ring, but he 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 eying campaign announcements soon.

Donald Trump also announced plans earlier this month to form a presidential exploratory committee.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is considered the front-runner for the Democratic party’s 2016 presidential nomination, but she hasn’t entered the race yet.

For his start, Cruz was bypassing Texas 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.

By getting in early and at Liberty, Cruz, 44, 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 aimed 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. It also had a potential impact on Cruz’s contemporaries, including 43-year-old Rubio and 47-year-old Walker.

Cruz’s father, a pastor, is also expected to help the 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. But, like other presidential prospects, he’s been coy about what he’s doing. That coyness ended Monday when he jumped in.

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.

In 2013, Cruz gained notoriety when he famously delivered a 21-hour long filibuster on the Senate floor in an attempt to defund President 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 choose to run for re-election in 2018, having broadened his national network of allies and donors during this presidential campaign.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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