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Ted Cruz's Challenge

First, Mike Huckabee. Then the world.

Posted on March 22, 2015, at 10:12 p.m. ET

Andrew Harnik / AP

LYNCHBURG, Va. — Texas Senator Ted Cruz is expected to announce his presidential campaign tomorrow, but he won't be running for president, exactly, not yet.

Cruz is running first for a different title: The One True Conservative. He wants the first ticket out of Iowa, where conservative voters boosted Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in years past. Other candidates — Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Scott Walker — seem to revolve around what Jeb Bush, the apparent frontrunner, is doing. Cruz's decision to announce his presidential bid at Liberty University, the Christian college founded by Jerry Falwell, suggests that his targets are much different: Huckabee, Ben Carson, Santorum, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal.

In his stump speech, Cruz emphasizes religious liberty, the new conservative lens for fighting government-mandated contraception coverage and court-mandated marriage equality. And Cruz's core message here is simple: I am the only serious person in this group. Cruz has a unique personal story: He worked his way from an immigrant family into Princeton, Harvard, and then a career as a top flight constitutional litigator, federal official, and Solicitor General of Texas. Huckabee, meanwhile, is hawking a secret biblical cancer cure; Carson, for all his impressive medical career, knows little about foreign policy; Santorum hasn't won anything in 15 years. Jindal and Perry already had their shot.

Some of them, though, are formidable, perhaps especially Perry, the best retail campaigner running for president this year. And the divisive Texas senator, who helped shut down the federal government in 2013, does not perform as well as the better-known Huckabee in early polling.

So he is coming out strong, and early, fighting to be seen as the clear leader of the half-dozen conservatives. He has spent more time in Iowa, New Hampshire, and other key states this year than any other candidate besides Perry. And his early announcement has already been a success. Cruz has received more media attention this weekend for this off-Capitol-Hill appearance than he has for anything in months.

Cruz hasn't gotten the attention given to the looser, newsier Rand Paul, or to Rubio, whose plausibility as a general election candidate has kept him in Republicans' and the media's thoughts. But the Monday morning announcement will buy Cruz a new level of media attention, and another round of attacks from his many Washington enemies — something Cruz may think will grant him that favored American political status, the "outsider."

"It's worth remembering, in 1980 when Reagan ran, Washington despised Reagan," Cruz told the CPAC crowd this year.

This isn't the politics of broad appeal — it's the first-things-first focus of a campaign to consolidate the right. While Paul and Rubio have built out their messages this year as national candidates, a touch removed from the legislative priorities, Cruz's focus has been on Capitol Hill, where he's viewed as the conservative pulse, especially for House members. His early rejection of Loretta Lynch for attorney general led many senators to follow suit by saying they would not vote to confirm her.

Now, some of those may come to Cruz's side and endorse his campaign — raising the pressure on his rivals to get into the race soon.

Update (12:12 a.m.): Cruz announced he was running in a tweeted video, noting that it would take a "new generation of courageous conservatives to help make America great again."

I'm running for President and I hope to earn your support!