In his first year as a senator, he cast one of three votes against longtime Sen. John Kerry as secretary of state, then incited like-thinking conservative Republicans in the House to shut down the federal government for 16 days in a futile bid to stop President Barack Obama's landmark health care act.
Now, just 44, he's beaten the rest of the large GOP field into the media spotlight as the first formal entrant in the party's 2016 presidential race. But a number of factors make it unlikely he'll finish first when Republicans pick their nominee.
By pledging to lead a grassroots army of "millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America" and choosing the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University as his kickoff site, Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, underscored his intention of relying heavily on the religious conservatives who constitute a majority of Republican voters in both the leadoff Iowa caucuses and the subsequent South Carolina primary.
But the Texas senator faces a battle for those votes, and history indicates that even success there does not guarantee victory when the primary trail hits larger, more diverse states. Here are some of the handicaps the freshman Texas senator must overcome to win the Republican nomination:
-Too far right? Though his views don't differ notably from most rivals, he sought in his announcement speech to portray himself as the purest conservative in the field, promising to repeal Obamacare, abolish the IRS, pass a flat tax and enable college graduates to choose from "four, five, six job offers." While appealing to many Republicans, it's a dubious path for a general election where even GOP analysts say the party must broaden its appeal.
-Strong competition. In Iowa alone, Cruz has strong competition for support from the religious conservatives who dominated recent caucuses. Rivals could include Gov. Scott Walker from neighboring Wisconsin, who scored strongly at a recent conservative forum; Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, whose father's past campaigns give him a solid Iowa base; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 caucuses; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the 2012 caucuses; and several others. Recent polls showed Walker as the early favorite, with Cruz far behind.
-Experience. For six years, the GOP has assailed Obama's lack of electoral experience. But Cruz, who won his first election in 2012, has less. Rivals can tout greater achievements. Besides, senators have generally fared poorly in Republican contests; the last three to be nominated, Barry Goldwater in 1964, Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008, lost decisively.
-Burned bridges. Running for president involves building coalitions, something Cruz has shown little interest in doing. His challenges to the congressional GOP leadership have aroused substantial antagonism, and he made clear Monday that his projected path to victory involves mobilizing increased conservative turnout, not expanding the GOP base.
-Visage. Cruz sometimes comes across as angry, having defined himself so far by his fervent opposition to Obamacare and his role in shutting the government. While Republicans generally share his views, voters generally like positive candidates who display optimism about the future. Cruz sought to do that Monday to a very friendly audience, though the conservative nirvana he portrayed seemed optimistic even by political standards.
-Texas base. He faces spirited competition for both Texas money and support. And it's not necessarily an electoral positive to come from so solidly a Republican state. The last two successful Texas candidates, the two George Bushes, benefited from their New England roots. Many Republicans may question his appeal in the crucial electoral battlegrounds of the Industrial Belt, where the key to GOP success is attracting independents. After losing four of the last six elections, GOP voters may want a candidate they feel can win.
-History. In the past half-century, the only time Republicans nominated their most conservative candidate was Goldwater in 1964, and he carried six states. The GOP has gotten far more conservative since then, as have its leaders, but the country has become more diverse.
Cruz is smart and self-confident, delivering Monday's remarks with almost evangelical fervor, using neither podium nor script. A champion college debater, he could prove more adept than less-articulate rivals when televised campaign debates begin.
Still, the odds on the quest he began Monday are long.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.