Who is GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz?

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Freshman Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is trying to move to the top tier of a very large Republican pack. On Monday, he became the first officially declared candidate of either major party.

Cruz is already known as an uncompromising conservative and today he cemented that reputation before an adoring audience at Virginia's Liberty University, which calls itself the largest christian school in the world.

Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president early Monday and spoke to a cheering crowd at Liberty University later. CBS News

"Imagine in 2017 a new president signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare," said Cruz to huge ovation from the listening crowd. "Imagine abolishing the IRS!"

Cruz first stole the national political spotlight in 2013 -- his first year in the Senate -- when he held the floor for 21 hours. "I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand," he said on the Senate floor.

Analyzing Sen. Ted Cruz's first speech after announcing 2016 bid

It contributed to a 16-day partial government shutdown that angered leading members of his own party -- including Senator John McCain, who called Cruz a wacko-bird.

"If standing for the Constitution, makes you a wacko bird, then I am a very, very proud wacko bird."

The son of a Cuban dissident and an American mother, Cruz graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School before serving in the George W. Bush administration and as solicitor general of Texas.

A Southern Baptist, Cruz is deeply religious.

"These rights don't come from man they come from God almighty!"

And his speech today was tailored to his audience.

"He doesn't try to hide it he just comes out and says what he thinks," said one Liberty student.

"I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America," he told his audience.

Cruz's uncompromising conservatism is expected to help him in some early contests including the Iowa caucuses. But it will make for rough sledding if he survives to the point where he has to ask mainstream Republicans for support.

  • Chip-Reid_bio_140x100_bw.jpg
    Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.