*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

LYNCHBURG, Va. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz declared his candidacy for the White House on Monday in a speech heavy on faith and hard on President Obama, making him the first major-party candidate to formally jump into the race.  

"I believe in you, I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America," Cruz said to a college basketball arena filled with students. "And that is why today I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States."

The location of his announcement — Liberty University, a nerve center of evangelical thought and activity — telegraphed an emphasis on the GOP’s social conservative voters. The late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., a controversial figure, founded Liberty University in the 1970s in the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia.

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"Today, roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home," Cruz said. "Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values." 

The news came after several days of leaks about his impending campaign, and a tweet from Cruz early Monday morning announcing his decision. By mid-morning, Texas' junior senator was front and center at Liberty, with his wife, Heidi, and their daughters, Caroline and Catherine, in the audience. He laid out a vision for the country that included the repeal of Obamacare, abolishing the IRS, loosening gun laws, locking down the border and making school choice a civil rights issue. 

"Instead of a federal government that works to undermine our values, imagine a federal government that works to defend the sanctity of human life and to uphold the sacrament of marriage," Cruz said.  

Cruz's speech delivery on the campaign trail often mirrors sermons, in both inflection and fluency with Scripture. His Monday speech to Liberty students — one that was largely personal, and hit hard on his family's faith — was no different. 

"Our rights, they don’t come from man," Cruz said. "They come from God almighty." 

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He framed his speech for a youthful audience, touching on his own experience paying off student loans and promising a world where students have multiple job offers after graduation.

The appearance sealed the deal for a handful of Liberty University students interviewed after the speech, including journalism major Matthew Ozburn, who considers himself an independent voter.

"He had a lot of good points that I think registered a lot with college students, especially my age, millennials, as they call them," he said. "I was excited about the job offer thing, after college, because that's one thing that really worries me and my friends, because we don't want to spend all this money for a degree, and then get out of college and be stuck at McDonald's for several years."  

Monday was not the first time Liberty University played a pivotal role in presidential politics. Mitt Romney spoke at the school’s commencement ceremony during his 2012 presidential run.

Cruz won't be alone in the race for long; he's likely to be joined by at least a dozen other Republican contenders.