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As He Rises in Polls, Cruz Finds Himself in Crosshairs

Also, the Democratic presidential frontrunners sharpen their arguments in their play for Texas votes.

U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate Ted Cruz at a presidential town hall hosted by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., (r.) at Furman U…

Allies of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are officially putting U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in their crosshairs.

Right to Rise, the super PAC backing Bush's presidential run, released a TV ad Tuesday that accuses Cruz of voting to "dramatically weaken counterterrorism surveillance." The 30-second spot imagines Cruz behind a desk in the Oval Office while taking issue with his vote earlier this year for the USA Freedom Act, which reformed U.S. surveillance programs. 

The ad, titled "Desk,"  began airing Tuesday in the first four early voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — as well as nationally on Fox News, according to Right to Rise. 

Cruz was not the only GOP rival the super PAC singled out in the spot. It also criticized U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for his attendance record in Congress and Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, calling him "impulsive and reckless."

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Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign in Texas is drawing a not-so-subtle contrast with his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton.

The Vermont senator's Lone Star State campaign issued a news release Monday morning bragging that he is the "only presidential Democratic candidate to use the ballot petition method rather than paying a fee to participate in the 2016 Texas primary election." Last week, Sanders supporters submitted more than 12,000 signatures, at least 7,000 more than required, to place his name on the ballot for the March 1 primary.

"The impressive effort of the petitioners proves that this is a true grassroots campaign," Jacob Limon, Texas state director for the Sanders campaign, said in the news release. "This is not your typical top-down campaign."

The news release did not name Clinton, but it goes without saying the Sanders campaign has the former secretary of state on its mind. She is the only other major Democratic presidential candidate to file for the Texas primary, and she did so by using a second option: cutting a $2,500 check to the state Democratic Party.

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Clinton’s presidential campaign, meanwhile, is getting local in its efforts to promote her infrastructure plan.

The Democratic presidential frontrunner rolled out the plan last month, saying it would boost federal investment in infrastructure by $275 billion over the next five years. Her campaign says the set of proposals would specifically help Texas tackle clogged-up stretches of Interstate 35, which was recently named the most congested roadway in the state.

“Austin is a magical city, but we have a big challenge,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Clinton backer, said in a statement. “The stretch of IH-35 that runs through downtown Austin is one of the worst roads in Texas and one of the worst of the country. During rush hour, it’s less of a road than a slowly moving parking lot. Everyone agrees that we need to do something ambitious to fix this, and Hillary Clinton’s 21st Century infrastructure plan is exactly the kind of thing that Austin needs to get traffic moving again.”

Another Clinton supporter in Texas, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, is also plugging her infrastructure proposals. In a column published Friday by The Dallas Morning News, West highlighted how federal investment like the kind Clinton is pushing for has helped the Metroplex, citing the completion last year of the Tower 55 freight project in Fort Worth.

West also lobbed some criticism at Clinton’s GOP rivals for the White House, including Cruz. The Republican candidates, he said, “don’t get it” and want to cut federal infrastructure investment while keeping in place tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

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The state’s major drilling slowdown is also stalling sales tax collections.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Wednesday announced that collections of the crucial revenue source for the state totaled $2.58 billion in November, a 3.3 percent drop compared to the previous November.

Tax receipts have fallen in three of the past four months when compared to collections from a year earlier. And Hegar said the reason is clear:

“Sales tax revenue declined again due to reduced spending in oil and gas-related sectors,” the Republican said in a statement.
Per-barrel crude prices have plummeted below $40, the lowest since 2009 and a far cry from the heady days of $100-per-barrel oil from less than a year and a half ago.

In other gloomy news, energy giant Kinder Morgan said Tuesday that it will slash dividend payments by 75 percent next year. The announcement follows a plunge in stock prices triggered by a Moody’s Investor Service report calling the company’s outlook “negative.”

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