Sen. Ted Cruz plans to announce Monday that he will run for president of the United States, accelerating his already rapid three-year rise from a tea party insurgent in Texas into a divisive political force in Washington…

Yet critics of Cruz argue that he will have trouble raising high-dollar donations from traditional contributors, will land few endorsements from the nation’s political establishment and be unable to escape comparisons to President Barack Obama, who also ran for president in his first Senate term. And if he advances to a general election, Cruz trails likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton solidly in early public opinion polls.

“I don’t consider him a mainstream candidate, and usually to win you’ve got to be inside the 45-yard lines,” said Greg Valliere, a political adviser to Wall Street firms who believes that if Cruz did earn the nomination, he would not win more than a dozen states in the general election. “The enthusiasm for him will be tremendous in maybe a third of the party, but another third of the party will be strongly opposed and another third of the party will be wary.”…

Cruz’s senior advisers, however, see a path to victory that all but ignores that wing. To them, the Republican primaries are a series of single-elimination brackets where the four GOP leaders who best represent the party’s libertarian, establishment, social conservative and tea party wings will survive as the field winnows. Cruz will vie for the support of the tea party electorate, his advisers say, but will fare well enough with social conservative and libertarian voters to assemble a powerful coalition.

The location of a presidential announcement often has meaning for a candidate. Mitt Romney kicked off his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, which hosts the nation’s first presidential primary and where he has a vacation home. President Obama announced his 2008 campaign in Springfield, Ill., in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, because it is where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous “house divided” speech about the problems of slavery.

For Cruz, declaring his candidacy at Liberty University would send a signal that he wants the votes of religious conservatives. He’s no stranger to them, having won a straw poll conducted by the Values Voter Summit two years in a row.

“For someone whose calling card is the Constitution and who presents himself as a ‘conviction conservative,’ giving a talk at Liberty is a fitting place that’s very symbolic,” said Mark Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University. “He’s trying to bring together the movement conservatives with the social conservatives.”

Though Cruz is not considered one of the likeliest Republicans to win his party’s presidential nomination, he will undoubtedly play a huge role in the 2016 campaign by catering to the conservative voters who tend to dominate GOP primaries with his knack for articulating the most conservative position on key issues…

How Cruz affects the 2016 primary will come down to how the other candidates react to him—whether by moving to the right themselves on some issues or perhaps by using Cruz as a contrast to try to distinguish themselves as more moderate. Either way, Cruz has spent his last months before officially becoming a presidential candidate highlighting his ability to get on the most conservative side of an issue.

In a wide-ranging speech to the Club for Growth winter meeting [last month], Sen. Ted Cruz looked back on his 2013 crusade to defund Obamacare — an effort that consumed Washington, led to bitter Republican party infighting, and resulted in a partial government shutdown — and concluded it was a fight he probably never could have won.

“Is it likely we would have altogether defunded Obamacare then?” the Texas Republican said. “Probably not. That would have taken an almost perfect storm. I was never Pollyannaish about the political factors it would take for that to happen.”…

Cruz, who is considering a 2016 run for president, conceded that “I made some mistakes” in the shutdown battle. “The single biggest mistake … is I think that I and our allies did not spend enough time explaining the specific strategy to elite opinion makers,” Cruz said. “And I think there was confusion that made it less effective.”

Talking to reporters on Capitol Hill [last month], Cruz indicated he would not stop an agreement between Democratic and Republican leaders to proceed with a clean bill to fund the DHS and avoid a shutdown — the same agreement he lambasted in his CPAC speech. For the firebrand legislator, best known for his role in the politically disastrous 2013 government shutdown, it was an intriguing signal that he may be softening his famously hard-line approach.

Cruz’s position on the underlying legislation — that it’s a bad deal for conservatives who want to stop President Obama’s executive actions on immigration — remains unchanged. But Cruz apparently was openly accepting that he could not permanently block passage of the bill. In a smashmouth political culture in which legislators use every parliamentary tactic to gain advantage and seize the spotlight, the simple act of bowing to reality was noticeable…

One possible explanation for the softer, kinder approach is that Cruz is mulling a presidential run, which might provide an incentive to be more of a team player than a bomb thrower. Moreover, with Republicans now in the majority, it’s harder to blame Democrats for blocking legislation — the way Cruz has done repeatedly in interviews and on social media over the DHS spending bill — while also obstructing those same votes.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) offered his colleague Sen. Ted Cruz a non-endorsement on the eve of the Texas Republican’s expected presidential launch.

“He is a valued member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, him and I are friendly and I think he is a very viable candidate,” McCain, the chairman of the committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

And if Cruz ultimately wins the nomination, he could beat Hillary Clinton and go all the way in 2016, McCain suggested.

California Gov. Jerry Brown said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s position on climate change makes him “absolutely unfit to be running for office.”

Responding to comments made by Cruz on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” Democratic Governor Brown said of Cruz, “That man betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of the existing scientific data. It’s shocking and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.”

With his announcement on Monday, Ted Cruz will be the first candidate to enter the 2016 presidential race. He joins a not-so-illustrious club of first announcers, a group whose members haven’t won a presidential election since at least 1952, as far back as there are records…

A November Bloomberg Politics analysis of presidential candidates and when they announced found that the ideal time to announce is in June, and that no first announcer has won the election since at least 1952. Since then, the only first announcers to secure nominations were Democrats Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and George McGovern in 1972…

In 2008, the first candidate to announce was former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, a Democrat who hadn’t held public office since the early ’80s. He ran a budget campaign originally to bring attention to his organization, the National Institute for Democracy. The next candidate in the race was former Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich.

Via the WSJ:

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A prominent Republican consultant — who isn’t working for any of the 2016 presidential candidates and who has been right more times than I can count — said something that shocked me when we had lunch recently. He said that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had roughly the same odds of becoming the Republican presidential nominee as former Florida governor Jeb Bush

Think of the Republican primary field as a series of lanes. In this race, there are four of them: Establishment, Tea Party, Social Conservative and Libertarian. The four lanes are not of equal size:  Establishment is the biggest followed by Tea Party, Social Conservative and then Libertarian. (I could be convinced that Libertarian is slightly larger than Social Conservative, but it’s close.)…

Cruz is, without question, the dominant figure in the Tea Party lane. What that means — particularly in the early stages of the primary process in places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — is that he will likely be able to win, place or show repeatedly, wracking up enough strong-ish performances to keep going even as the Establishment lane and the Social Conservative lane begin to thin out. (Cruz’s ability to raise money, which remains a question, is less important for him than it is for other candidates — especially those in the Establishment lane. His people are going to be for him no matter how much — or little — communicating he does with them.)

The trick for Cruz, according to this consultant, is to hang around long enough to not only be the preeminent figure in the Tea Party lane but also in the Social Conservative lane…

So, watch Cruz. The combination of his running room as the race’s one true tea-party candidate, his debating and oratorical skills and his willingness to always, on every issue, stake out the most conservative position make him a real threat.