On Monday morning (March 23), Senator Ted Cruz officially kicked off the 2016 presidential campaign -- nearly 20 months before election day!-- by declaring his candidacy for the Republican nomination.
Cruz had reason to get ahead of the game. He's unlikely to raise as much money as established candidates, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He lacks some of the name recognition of other Republican rising stars, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. But Cruz clearly recognized the need to appeal to younger voters: after all, 2016 will be the first truly Millennial election, one open to teenagers born as recently as 1998.
So perhaps it's no surprise that the 44-year-old Tea Party favorite made his announcement before 10,000 American-flag waving students at conservative Christian Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
(Cruz technically pre-announced his bid in a Twitter post sent out hours earlier).
Cruz may seem like an unlikely candidate to appeal to the 80-million-plus always-plugged-in generation. He refutes climate change, something half of millennials said they believe is a real thing in a 2014 survey. And, earlier this year, he re-introduced the State Marriage Defense Act, which would block the federal government from enforcing marriage equality on states at a time when 67 percent of voters age 18-33 are in favor of it.
But Millennials, who make up a third of the U.S. population, comprise the country's largest and most diverse generational group.
So, MTV News asked a number of people who attended the event (which is mandatory for all Liberty students), whether they were swayed by Cruz's message.
'He stood up for Israel, which got everyone on their feet.'
"The reception was very, very good," Tré Goins-Phillips, opinion editor for the student newspaper the Liberty Champion, told MTV News shortly after the address. "Especially when he made comments on Iran and Israel, he got a standing ovation when he said if he were president he'd stand by Israel, as opposed to President Obama."
Cruz got a 30-second ovation for the line, "Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel."
The reference was to Obama's recent disagreement with the just re-elected Israeli leader, who before his re-election had commented about his distaste for a two-state solution with the Palestinians; Netanyahu has since walked back those statements.
"He's a dynamic, engaging speaker, which is something people my age really like to hear," Liberty Student Government Association president Quincy Thompson, 21, told MTV News. "The main connection for me was that [his appearance] showed that he would take the time to announce such a big part of his journey and share it with 18 to 20 year olds."
Getting a head-start before the field is super-crowded
Liberty has long been a safe space for Republican candidates. Cruz's strong stance against same-sex marriage and Obamacare is likely to resonate on a campus that mounted its own unsuccessful Supreme Court challenge to the health care law.
The location of Cruz's announcement is also a likely signal of his interest in appealing to Evangelical and libertarian voters.
"I think his message has a lot of libertarian leanings to it, especially the frequent mentions of the Constitution, which is a big buzz word for libertarians," Goins-Phillips, 23, said, adding that there's a "huge" contingent of libertarians on campus, as well as a majority of students on campus who stand by traditional marriage.
Young libertarians are gonna love Cruz.
And while his pro-life stance and opposition to same-sex marriage definitely resonated with the strong libertarian contingent on the Liberty campus, Cruz did a few other things to win over the room.
Along with numerous references to the Constitution, he made his candidacy seem more like a mission than a personal goal, a huge check mark for the young voters in the house.
"We love to get behind causes and what Cruz did today was, pushed us to get behind his cause, his grassroots movement," Thompson said. "He said he's recruiting people for a cause that's not just about getting him elected, but about something greater. That will resonate well [here]."