When Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced his 2016 presidential bid in March, he didn't deliver a speech, he choreographed a set piece.
A favorite of the Republican Party's most conservative wing, Cruz launched his campaign from Liberty University in Virginia, the world's largest Christian college and one of the nerve centers of the religious right. He stalked the center stage at the school's arena like an evangelist, wearing a microphone fit for a Britney Spears show, delivering a passionate, starkly conservative speech that urged his audience to "imagine" a world without the IRS or Obamacare. His wife Heidi and young daughters Catherine and Caroline joined him onstage afterward, smiling and waving little American flags.
His team was pleased with the result.
"I don't know of anybody who's had a more successful launch than we had - the optics of the launch, the great coverage, the great photos, great enthusiasm," Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler told CBS News. "We've had great movement forward in the polls."
The kickoff at Liberty was a warning shot directed at Cruz's GOP competitors -- a signal that Cruz would position himself as the conservative anchor of a crowded field, heir to the insurgent legacy of Goldwater and Reagan.
"We see Sen. Cruz as the inheritor of the mantle of the conservative movement," Tyler said. "We felt that competing in the evangelical bracket was a natural fit for us, and Liberty is the largest Christian university in the world. It has a built-in audience. We were welcome there. The students were terrific."
The Cruz team's attention to detail was far from abnormal -- the announcement speech is one of the most meticulously planned events of the modern day presidential campaign. Every variable is scrutinized, from the venue to the audience to the message itself.
"The best announcement pairs excited crowds with excited visuals and impactful words - those are the three attributes you need," Republican strategist and CBS News contributor Frank Luntz explained. "In today's 24/7 political environment, it's not essential, but it's really important."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio declared several weeks after Cruz at a similarly elaborate rally. The two men are kindred spirits in many regards -- both Cuban-Americans, both elected to the Senate after defeating an establishment Republican in the primary -- but the difference in tone and setting at their announcement rallies reflected how far apart their political profiles have grown.
Cruz "launched his campaign at Liberty, and that meant he wasn't going to focus on his Texas roots, but he'd try to energize the conservative grassroots movement," GOP strategist Ron Bonjean told CBS News. "Rubio launched his campaign in Miami, which was a focal point for Cubans immigrating to the United States. He was pushing more of an inclusive message with that."
Rubio spoke at Freedom Tower, a building in downtown Miami that was used as a processing center for Cubans seeking political asylum in the 1960s. "To me, it's a place that's symbolic of the promise of America," Rubio told the Miami Herald last month. "Literally, five decades ago, tens of thousands of people came here after losing their country and began their new life."
The hometown speech is a common tactic for presidential hopefuls seeking a big moment to launch their bid. It can provide a humanizing opportunity to emphasize biography, and it allows many to point to the past accomplishments that have pushed them to the brink of the presidency.
Some other Republicans in the 2016 race, like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, have announced their bids at big hometown rallies. It's a safe move, but it's not always as rewarding as candidates would like.
"The goal is more than just a sound byte. The goal is to do something memorable and significant so that it actually matters," Luntz said. "Huckabee did not get a bounce. Ben Carson did not get a bounce. Carly Fiorina did not get a bounce. Just because you announce, it doesn't mean people pay attention to you."
Sometimes, a big announcement rally can even hurt more than it helps. It can drain precious financial resources that might be better spent on infrastructure. Worse still, if people don't show up, the visible lack of support can create a damaging narrative in a campaign's infancy.
"Sometimes it actually jump starts a campaign, and in other cases, it's anticlimactic," Luntz said. "Rand Paul's announcement got tremendous attention, even more than Ted Cruz. Then you have these three candidates who announce, and nobody pays attention to them."
The spectacle on the GOP side has not yet been matched by the Democrats who have declared a bid. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, launched in mid-April with a gauzy web video that focused more on other Americans' stories than Clinton herself. She's spent the last few weeks on a tame listening tour of early primary and caucus states, and she won't hold her first big rally until June 13, her campaign announced last week.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's only declared challenger, announced his bid in a statement on April 29. The next day, he convened a brief press conference. He'll hold a kickoff rally in Burlington, Vermont on May 27.
Why are Democrats tip-toeing carefully into the pool while Republicans opt for the cannonball? The answer could have a lot to do with the starkly different primary landscapes in each party.
Republicans are seeking to distinguish themselves among a crowded field. As many as 17 or 18 credible candidates could seek the GOP nomination, and contenders have a obvious interest in making a splash with their kickoff to maximize early perceptions of viability.
"They feel that they have to shout louder, they have be more impactful, because there's so many of them," Luntz explained.
"The Republican primary is more like a NASCAR race with 20 cars in the mix," GOP strategist Ron Bonjean told CBS News. "Everyone knows who's running on the other side."
A strong debut speech can even juice fundraising, campaign pros say, which in turn can confer greater publicity and viability, creating a virtuous cycle that helps a candidate emerge from the pack.
Within a week of Cruz's announcement speech, his campaign announced it had raked in more than $2 million, and the super PACs supporting his candidacy said they'd raised more than $31 million.
"A big launch gets people excited, and at this stage, the people you want to be excited are the grassroots who are gonna work for you and the donors who are gonna write checks," explained Tyler, Cruz's spokesman. "It's especially important to donors - they want to see you're moving the ball forward."
"A strong launch can come with a lot of campaign donations," Bonjean agreed. "This is all designed for campaign commercials, fundraising, and emphasizing the themes of the campaign... these announcements can indicate, depending on the size or scope of them, how wide their support is among GOP primary voters."
For Democrats, the calculus is different. Clinton, obviously, is in a unique position, with the most commanding early lead of any non-incumbent in modern U.S. history. She didn't need a big rally to create a media circus with her announcement. While other candidates were concerned about getting more exposure, Clinton seemed more concerned about the perils of overexposure.
"They're so nervous about a slip up or about an unintended consequence, that they will do everything they can to script everything," said Luntz.
Clinton's campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but other prominent Democrats have commended the strategic thinking behind her slow launch.
"Humility is the order of the day," President Obama's former top strategist David Axelrod told the Washington Post before Clinton's debut video landed. "Last time, they launched as a big juggernaut cloaked in the veil of inevitability and at 20,000 feet. There was a tremendous backlash to that. It is imperative for her to go out, to meet people where they live, to make her case, to deliver a message, to listen to what they have to say and to ask for their votes."
And where Bernie Sanders is concerned, observers have learned to expect the unexpected. The self-described "independent socialist" from Vermont has always been a unique, iconoclastic figure, and it's not surprising his presidential bid would reflect that.
His announcement press conference had an impromptu air about it. He sauntered up to the microphones outside the Capitol, delivered a brief statement and fielded a few questions as his hair whipped in the wind. When he was done speaking, he "went back to his office to continue working," Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who's advising Sanders' 2016 bid, told CBS News.
"We've had a few weeks now to begin to organize a campaign structure," Devine said. "This launch speech on May 27 is really the beginning of a more formal phase of the campaign."
Sanders' team is not expecting the rally in Burlington to be a breakthrough moment.
"It will give him an opportunity to begin to outline telling America what he wants to do as president. Burlington can demonstrate to people that this is something he's done on a local scale," Devine said, "It's not going to be big and bold in visual presentation like Ted Cruz, or something like that. But it's sort of a different ballgame for Bernie. He's going to connect with people in Iowa and New Hampshire through local media and grassroots organizing. Our big event is not going to be nearly as important as that other stuff."
Of course, there are other Democrats eyeing the race, most notably former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. For his big announcement, O'Malley will go the more conventional route, returning to his political roots with a big rally in Baltimore on May 30.
For O'Malley, the choice to play hometown hero was an easy one. "I wouldn't think of announcing any place else," he told "Meet the Press" earlier this month.