LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Launching his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas asked Christian conservative voters to imagine a United States without the IRS, Obamacare or abortion rights -- and to imagine they can make that happen by supporting him.

His aspirational appeal Monday, aimed at America's most conservative voters, could quickly run into challenges in winning over moderate voters -- and eventually deep difficulties in governing should Cruz win the White House.

But it's a message that Cruz, the first major 2016 contender to declare himself a candidate, is expected to forcefully emphasize in the coming year before voters start to pick nominees.

"God's blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe that God isn't done with Americans," Cruz declared at Liberty University, a Christian school founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

"I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is that is why today I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States of America."

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Cruz, 44, won't be the sole GOP contender for long. Two Senate colleagues, Kentucky's Rand Paul and Florida's Marco Rubio, are eyeing campaign launches soon. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are expected to follow, among others.

To help build his campaign account, Cruz is heading this week to donor-heavy New York.

But one New York Republican looked askance at the Cruz announcement:

"The Republican Party and the American people have to be able to find a more qualified candidate for president than Ted Cruz," said Rep. Peter King of Seaford. "Shutting down the federal government and reading Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor are the marks of a carnival barker, not the leader of the free world."

With Tom Brune