Cruz wins race to the start in crowded GOP field


Though attendance was mandatory for the school's resident students, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz faced a rapt audience as he launched his long-expected bid for the presidency under the Vine Center's vast, 10,000-seat white dome. The carefully chosen venue strengthened Cruz's case to religious conservatives who dominate the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, anchoring him well to the right of what is expected to be a crowded GOP field. Anointing him as the first major 2016 contender, Cruz's announcement also gave him a conspicuous platform on the fifth anniversary of President Obama's health care overhaul, which he has vowed to repeal in "every word." The senator was accompanied by his wife, Heidi, on leave from her job as an executive at Goldman Sachs to join his campaign, and their two young daughters, Caroline and Catherine, who took part in the stage rehearsals over the weekend. For Cruz, 44, his second visit to Liberty was the hopeful springboard for a somewhat long-shot grassroots campaign to battle not only liberals and Democrats, but also the Republican Party establishment, represented by Texas native Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who many see as the undeclared front-runner. [...] he still faces stiff competition for the mantle of lead religious conservative from better-established figures such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

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