US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivers remarks before announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination to run for US President March 23, 2015, at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va.
Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty

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Ted Cruz makes it official and takes the social-conservative path in the ’16 contest… Cruz’s two challenges: money and experience… Another reason why he’s such a longshot: Which elected GOP leaders are going to endorse him?… The NBC/WSJ poll on where Cruz stands vs. the rest of the likely GOP field… Oh, Canada: Yes, Cruz is most likely eligible to be president… First Read’s Official State of the 2016 Field: Who’s in and not (at least for now)… Obama vs. Netanyahu… A big week for Boehner… And Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) to run for FL SEN.

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Cruz takes the social-conservative path in ‘16 GOP contest: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the first major 2016 candidate to officially announce a presidential bid. And his kickoff speech this morning at Liberty University – the school that the late conservative Christian leader Jerry Falwell founded – is the big giveaway on his approach to relevancy in the GOP presidential contest. He is taking the evangelical/social conservative path. Since we’ve been covering American politics, the establishment path has been the tried and true way to win the GOP nomination. Think George H.W. Bush in ’88, Bob Dole in ’96, George W. Bush in ’00, John McCain in ’08, and Mitt Romney in ’12. You have to go all of the way back to ’80 with Ronald Reagan to see someone who took a more insurgent path to win the Republican nomination (and even Reagan by then was much more established and well known after his ’76 challenge against Ford). But taking the evangelical/social conservative path is certainly a way to achieve relevancy and a puncher’s shot at the nomination. Both Mike Huckabee in ’08 and Rick Santorum in ’12 took it – by winning Iowa – to become the major challenger to the eventual GOP nominee. And this time around, if Huckabee crashes and burns and if Scott Walker (who has the potential to win over social conservatives) doesn’t take off, this path could be wide open.

*** Cruz’s two challenges: But Cruz has two major challenges to overcome. One, can he raise enough money to compete? “Mr. Cruz will finance his campaign by looking to a mix of small-dollar contributors and a handful of wealthy patrons who could finance a super PAC. [Jason] Miller, the adviser to Mr. Cruz, confirmed the campaign would aim to raise at least $40 million,” the New York Times writes. And two, there’s the experience issue. Yes, there is certainly a precedent for a U.S. senator – serving in just his third year in office – to win the presidency. (See: Obama, Barack.) But do Republican primary voters have the appetite to nominate someone with a similar resume? All of this said, Cruz and his team deserve credit for generating 48 hours of buzz around the announcement. Given that other candidates are slated to announce next month (in order to show impressive 2nd quarter money hauls), going first certainly has its benefit. 

*** Another reason why Cruz is such a longshot: Remember when we wrote last week that the BEST predictor of primary success during the “Invisible Primary” is endorsements from elected leaders (sitting senators, governors, House members)? Well, as the New York Times’ Nate Cohn argues, that factor is the chief reason why Cruz is such a longshot. “Mr. Cruz has done nothing to endear himself to the elites [in his own party]… A candidate with this sort of reputation is not going to have a serious shot at the nomination. If most conservative officials, operatives, leaders and pundits won’t take him seriously, voters won’t either. The elites would rally to defeat such a candidate if he ever seemed poised to win.” Indeed, can someone like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) endorse him? If not, who else will? Here is NBC’s Perry Bacon on whether Cruz can win.

*** The NBC/WSJ poll on where Cruz stands vs. the rest of the likely GOP field: By the way, here is our NBC/WSJ poll from earlier this month on where Cruz stands vs. the rest of the likely GOP field on the question of whether GOP primary could see themselves supporting this candidate or not. The results:

Scott Walker 53%-17% (+36)
Marco Rubio 56%-26% (+30)
Ben Carson 41%-18% (+23)
Mike Huckabee 52%-40% (+12)
Bobby Jindal 36%-25% (+11)
Rand Paul 49%-40% (+9)
Jeb Bush 49%-42% (+7)
Rick Perry 45%-40% (+5)
Ted Cruz 40%-38% (+2)
Rick Santorum 40%-40% (even)
Carly Fiorina 18%-25% (-7)
Chris Christie 32%-57% (-25)
Lindsey Graham 20%-51% (-31)
Donald Trump 23%-74% (-51)

*** Oh, Canada: Given that Cruz was born in Canada and given the sad chapter of “Birtherism” from our political conversation back in 2009-2011, a question some have today is: Can Cruz legally become president? The answer seems to be yes. “The weight of scholarly legal and historical opinion appears to support the notion that ‘natural born Citizen’ means one who is entitled under the Constitution or laws of the United States to U.S. citizenship ‘at birth’ or ‘by birth,’ including any child born ‘in’ the United States, the children of United States citizens born abroad, and those born abroad of one citizen parents who has met U.S. residency requirements,” the Congressional Research Service wrote back in 2009, per the Atlantic. By the way, under those standards, Obama was legal to become president, even if he wasn’t born in Hawaii (although he was). Also, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reminds us that Cruz renounced his dual Canadian citizenship back in 2014. And don’t forget: You can’t challenge someone’s eligibility to be presidential UNTIL they are president.

*** First Read’s Official State of the 2016 Field: Finally, with Cruz becoming the FIRST major candidate to announce a presidential bid for 2016, here is First Read’s official state of the 2016 field:

  • Presidential announcements (1): Ted Cruz (R)
  • Exploratory presidential committees filed with Federal Election Commission (1): Ben Carson (R)
  • Exploratory presidential committees NOT filed with Federal Election Commission (1): Jim Webb (D)
  • GOP Leadership PACs/527s (13): John Bolton, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Scott Walker
  • Dem Leadership PACs/527s (2): Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders
  • No committees of any kind so far (2): Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton

*** Obama vs. Netanyahu: In an interview with Huffington Post, President Obama wasn’t buying Israeli Prime Minister’s walkback that he now supports a two-state solution – if the conditions are right. “We take him at his word when he said [a Palestinian state] wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership,” Obama said. “And so that’s why we’d better evaluate what other options are available.” One of those options: The U.S. no longer blocking a two-state resolution at the United Nations. “Well, we hope that won’t happen,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said on “Meet the Press” yesterday. “We know that the United States has stood for decades against all these anti-Israel resolutions at The United Nations. And we hope that policy continues.” The question for Israel: Does it try to fight such a resolution? Or does it try to shape it? If you missed “Meet the Press” yesterday, you can check out the highlights here in under two minutes in a segment we call ComPRESSed.

*** A big week for Boehner: The House speaker is trying to get two things through this week – one, a Medicare doc-fix; two, finalizing the GOP House budget. Roll Call: “After days of closed-door whip checks and haggling on amendments, the House Budget Committee advanced its fiscal 2016 budget on March 19 by a 22-13 vote. Every Republican supported the measure in committee, but GOP leaders are unlikely to be so lucky if the bill comes to the floor next week, as leaders said it would. The Budget Committee did not vote, as defense hawks had wanted, on an amendment adding more money to an Overseas Contingency Operations fund. House Armed Services Committee Republicans have threatened to withhold their support for the budget if they don’t get additional dollars for the Pentagon, and if the 36 Republicans on the committee band together to vote against the budget, the measure would almost certainly fail. No Democrat is expected to vote for the GOP blueprint.” More Roll Call: “The ‘doc fix’ proposal has been championed by the speaker as a long-overdue first step to reining entitlement costs. A deal to come up with a more reliable Medicare payment formula for doctors had seemed in question for quite a while on Capitol Hill. But every day an agreement doesn’t blow up is a day closer to a deal.”

*** Murphy to run for FL SEN: Finally, as NBC’s Frank Thorp flagged, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) is announcing his bid for Sen. Marco Rubio’s Senate seat.

OBAMA AGENDA: Rebuking Bibi
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Obama issued a public rebuke of Benjamin Netanyahu for his statements about the prevention of a Palestinian state.

The Washington Post writes that Obama promised to curb the influence of lobbyists in Washington, but the real picture is a bit more complicated.

From the AP: “A purported affiliate of the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the mass killing of 29 soldiers last week in a southern city taken over by the country’s local al-Qaida branch.”

CONGRESS: Lynch’s stalled nomination has consequences
POLITICO looks at whether Loretta Lynch can avoid being viewed as damaged goods. “The danger to Lynch is that, if all people know about her is that she squeaked by with 51 votes, she could start her term with a tarnished reputation.”

The New York Times notes that the shadow of the prosecution of Sen. Ted Stevens looms over the investigation of Robert Menendez.

Roll Call has a look at how Democrats hope to counterprogram the GOP budget battle.

OFF TO THE RACES: A glimpse at some of Hillary’s emails
CLINTON: The New York Times talks to officials who got a glimpse at some of Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails, which reveal some of her concerns over the fallout from the attacks.

Ready for Hillary will dissolve as soon as Clinton formally announces, The Hill reports.

CRUZ: Here’s our report on Ted Cruz’s announcement that he’ll seek the presidency.

And here’s Perry Bacon Jr. with a look at whether he can win.

On Meet the Press, California Gov. Jerry Brown called Ted Cruz “unfit to be running” for president because of his position on climate change.

The New York Times writes: “By becoming the first candidate to declare himself officially in the race, Republicans briefed on his strategy said, Mr. Cruz hopes to reclaim the affection and attention of those on the party’s right wing who have begun eyeing other contenders, particularly Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.”

WALKER: The Washington Post’s Phil Rucker, from South Carolina: “As hundreds of likely GOP primary voters took their first look at Walker here last week, many said he has the qualities they hope to see in the GOP’s next standard-bearer. They acknowledged they know very little about Walker yet said they are ready to vote him into the White House.”

WARREN: The Boston Globe minces no words, in an op-ed: “While Warren has repeatedly vowed that she won’t run for president herself, she ought to reconsider. And if Warren sticks to her refusal, she should make it her responsibility to help recruit candidates to provide voters with a vigorous debate on her signature cause, reducing income inequality, over the next year.”

And around the country…

FLORIDA: Democrat Patrick Murphy will run for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat.

NEW YORK: The New York Times reports on protests against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to link teacher evaluations more closely to student test scores.

Additional reporting by Carrie Dann.

And we're off: Here's what you need to know in politics today

Updated