Texas Senator Ted Cruz cast himself as a leader of a grassroots conservative army on Monday as he became the first major figure to jump into the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Monday.

Speaking at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia, the Republican firebrand spoke about his religious faith and said he wanted to "reignite the promise of America."

"The answer will not come from Washington. It will come only from the men and women across this country: from people of faith, lovers of liberty, from people who respect the Constitution," he said.

The Canadian-born son of a Cuban immigrant, Cruz, 44, would be the first Hispanic in the White House if he won the November 2016 election.

He has built a reputation as an unyielding advocate for conservative principles in his two years in the U.S. Senate, making enemies in both parties on Capitol Hill even as he has become a hero to the grassroots Tea Party movement.

He pushed his party to force a 16-day government shutdown in 2013 in an unsuccessful effort to deny funding to President Barack Obama's healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act. He led a similar effort this year, also unsuccessful, to block Obama's effort to remove the threat of deportation for some undocumented immigrants.

More than a dozen potential presidential candidates are already courting donors and voters in states like Iowa and New Hampshire that vote early in next year's primary season.

As the lone official candidate, Cruz will get extra attention from the media and voters for several weeks.

Cruz was supported by 8 percent of self-identified Republicans in a Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush leads the poll with 21 percent and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ranks second with 16 percent.

Several other potential candidates are statistically tied with Cruz, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

The Democratic field is shaping up to be far leaner. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to declare her candidacy but is viewed as the front-runner for her party's nomination.