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What You Need To Know About Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the International Association of Firefighters forum in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced his bid for president early Monday. The Republican has been making the rounds with other 2016 hopefuls, so it's hardly a surprise, but he's the first major one to make it official. And if the early campaign trail is any indication of how the race will play out, Cruz, 44, will be exactly who he's always been. He's relatively new to public office, having been elected to the Senate in 2012. But he has made his career — and attracted support from the right's base along the way — as a staunch defender of conservative values.

Here's what you need to know:

He was born in Canada.
Cruz was born to a Cuban father, who escaped during the revolution, and an American mother, who was the first in her family to go to college and who became a computer programmer in the 1950s. Because of Cruz's Canadian birth, some have questioned whether he qualifies to be president. Being a "natural-born" citizen is one of the three eligibility requirements to be president laid out in the constitution.

But the weight of legal evidence supports that the term "natural-born" also applies to people born abroad to parents who are U.S. citizens (which Cruz's mom was). Cruz considers Houston, where he was raised, his hometown.

He was a top college debater at Princeton.
Here are some of the debate accolades Cruz raked in as an undergraduate at Princeton: top speaker at both the U.S. National Debating Championship and the North American Debating Championship, speaker of the year and team of the year. His classmates at Princeton remember him, according to a 2013 profile, the way many see him today: smart, confident, firm on conservative principles and polarizing.

After Princeton, he went on to study at Harvard Law; his classmates from that time also remember him as a smart but divisive guy with a hard edge.

He's argued before the Supreme Court nine times — sometimes in cowboy boots.
From 1996 to 1997, Cruz was a law clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In 2003, Cruz was appointed solicitor general of Texas, becoming the youngest person in the nation appointed to such a post. In that capacity, he argued several cases before the Supreme Court and authored more than 80 Supreme Court briefs. As solicitor general, he defended Texas' death penalty, the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and the state's congressional redistricting map.

And about those cowboy boots — he has a pair called his "argument boots." He says he didn't wear them to the Supreme Court out of respect to his mentor, Justice Rehnquist, who was a stickler for proper attire. That changed after Rehnquist's death — he sought and was granted permission from Chief Justice John Roberts to wear the boots before the high court.

He won his Senate seat without prior experience in elective office.
Once considered a long-shot for Senate, Cruz quickly became a Tea Party favorite when he ran in a tough primary against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. On the campaign trail in 2012, he fired up his base, conservative Tea Partiers disillusioned with government and dissatisfied with the direction of the country.

"There is a great awakening that is sweeping this country," he said at the time. His win was called the biggest of the year for Tea Party activists.

He spoke for 21 hours on the Senate floor.
Cruz was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012. Less than one year in, he commandeered the Senate floor to oppose President Obama's health care law. "I intend to speak in opposition to Obamacare; I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand," he said. Cruz's crusade, which attracted wide attention, advocated a government shutdown unless Democrats compromised on the law. Days later, Congress remained deadlocked over Obamacare provisions, and the government partially shut down for more than two weeks.

During his tenure, he's developed a reputation for throwing down the gauntlet against congressional Republican leaders over issues like health care, the federal budget and, most recently, immigration. And this year, he's already been blasting his fellow Republican presidential hopefuls, like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, accusing them of not standing up for true conservative values.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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