LYNCHBURG, Va. — Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Matthew McConaughey on potential political run: 'I'm measuring it' MORE launched his bid for the presidency Monday with an impassioned call before nearly 10,000 college students at evangelical Liberty University to rise up and “reignite the promise of America.”

The Republican formally entered the race at the end of a half-hour speech that had the feel and cadence of a megachurch sermon, declaring to the school's packed basketball arena, “I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America.” 

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“That is why today I am announcing that I’m running for president of the United States,” he said to cheers.  

Cruz’s fiery address left no doubt that his campaign will charge hard to the right in a bid to lock down the conservative core of the GOP base, with a special emphasis on social conservatives. 

“It is a time for truth, it is a time for liberty. It is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States. I am honored to stand with each and every one of you courageous conservatives,” he said.

GOP strategists generally consider Cruz a long shot to win the party's nomination, but his unyielding stances on hot-button issues ranging from immigration to education reform could prove a headache to more moderate candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. 

Cruz on Monday specifically called for the repeal of Common Core education standards, which Bush supports. 

He received a warm and enthusiastic reception from the young crowd, which whooped and cheered as he threw out choice pieces of red meat: the repeal of ObamaCare, the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and a lockdown of the U.S.-Mexico border.

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“Imagine millions of young people coming together and standing together saying, ‘We will stand for liberty.’ Think how different the world would be,” he said.

He asked the crowd to imagine booming economic growth, young people graduating from college with four, five or six job offers, and a simplified tax code that allows Americans to file their taxes on a form no larger than a postcard.

Students waved miniature American flags throughout the arena, as Cruz asked them to picture a president who “finally secures the borders” and federal government that “works to defend the sanctity of life” and “protects the right to keep and bear arms.”

Cruz is the first major candidate to formally declare his intention to run for president, giving him a chance to lay out his message on a relatively empty stage before as many as 20 other GOP candidates begin kick-starting their campaign machinery. 

He drew a crowd of national media who made the three-and-a-half-hour drive Monday from Washington, D.C. About a half-dozen satellite television trucks were parked outside the arena well before his speech.

Cruz appears to have chosen the timing carefully as his remarks came on the fifth anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act into law and the 240th anniversary of Patrick Henry’s famous declaration in Richmond before the Revolutionary War, “Give me liberty or give me death.” He made mention of both.

His appearance bumped a speech that Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe — a close ally of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton — had been scheduled to deliver Monday at Liberty’s Vines Center.

Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty’s president, said McAuliffe would return to the campus later this year. He said Cruz’s staff contacted him 10 days ago about speaking before the student body. 

A Christian rock band warmed up the crowd by singing “Our God" and “Mighty to Save.”

Cruz’s wife, Heidi, dressed in a light pink suit, and his two daughters, Caroline and Catherine, ages six and four, also dressed in pink dresses, joined him on stage to wave to the crowd after his remarks.

The 44-year-old, first-term senator spoke of his mother and father overcoming tough odds to build a happy and financially secure family. He noted that his father fled from Cuba at the age of 18 to wash dishes for 50 cents an hour in Texas and his mother was one of 17 children and the first in her family to go to college, despite having a difficult father who drank too much. 

He recalled his father, Rafael, had his own struggles with alcohol and deserted him and his mother while they were living in Canada, deciding he no longer wanted to be married. 

He said his father’s life changed after he was invited by a friend to join a Bible study in Houston, prompting him to accept Jesus Christ as his savior, a story that elicited a boisterous response from the crowd.

“There are people who wonder if faith is real. I can tell you, in my family, there’s not a second of doubt. Were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would have been raised by a single mother without my father in the household,” he said.  

— David McCabe contributed. 

— This post was updated at 11:53 a.m.