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The Brief: Dec. 21, 2015

Coverage of his campaign stops this weekend highlighted an interesting development for the Texas senator: his campaign stops have become bigger, glitzier events and his transportation game has stepped up as well.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks with reporters before a rally Saturday in Daphne, Alabama. The Texas senat…

The Big Conversation

Ted Cruz is storming through the South for the second time in roughly four months in a bid to lock up the affections of GOP primary voters in a key early battleground for the presidential nomination.

Coverage of his campaign stops this weekend highlighted an interesting development for the Texas senator who has ascended to the top tier of Republican hopefuls in recent weeks. His campaign stops have become bigger, glitzier events and the senator's transportation game has stepped up as well.

The Tribune's Patrick Svitek was on the road with Cruz all weekend. He wrote:

Yet the campaign is doing things a little differently on this swing, which comes as Cruz is settling into life as a top-tier contender for the GOP nomination. He is flying on a charter plane between slickly produced rallies that begin with a video capturing the arc of Cruz's campaign so far. The rallies have been a step up from the events that comprised Cruz's SEC primary tour in August, when his bus would roll into a parking lot, he would hop out and shortly thereafter he would begin speaking inside a local church or restaurant.

Politico's Katie Glueck captured the contrast thusly, "Back in August, as a middle-of-the-packer, Cruz’s stops at restaurants and in parking lots had an informal feel. Now, firmly ensconced in second place after Trump in national polls and leading in Iowa, Cruz holds elaborate and orderly gatherings marked by single-file lines to enter the venues, VIP lists and a robust security presence."

The ramp up in scale of the Cruz events, though, must still be measured up against the much larger crowds that Donald Trump is drawing to his rallies. Svitek further noted that Cruz must contend with a third rival, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is working hard to make inroads in the key early primary state of Alabama.

"Like Cruz, Rubio has a full slate of delegates in the state — in fact, he has more than Cruz does, 76 to 66," Svitek wrote. "And also like Cruz, Rubio has a point person in every congressional district as well as a county chair in nearly every county, according to the co-chairs of Rubio's campaign in Alabama, Will Ainsworth and Bill Armistead."

The New York Times' Matt Flegenheimer, meanwhile, observed another way in which Cruz was beginning to resemble Trump, a further sharpening of his campaign trail language:

Perhaps most notably, Mr. Cruz has sharpened his already uncompromising language, eager to retain his own hold on popular anger against the political class, and to demonstrate conservative purity amid attacks from Senator Marco Rubio over immigration and national security policies. ... And in a turn that called to mind, for some, Gov. George Wallace’s famous 1963 refrain in praise of segregation during the civil rights movement, Mr. Cruz pledged to oppose legal status for undocumented immigrants “today, tomorrow, forever.”

Trib Must Reads

Big Oil's Trouble, Drilling Rules were Top Energy Stories of 2015, by Jim Malewitz — Texans could hardly avoid the doom-and-gloom headlines about plummeting oil prices in 2015. But that was far from the only major storyline in energy this year.

Cruz Faces Fresh Wave of Inconsistency Charges, by Patrick Svitek — Ted Cruz woke up Sunday morning to a fresh barrage of charges of inconsistency, allegations that go far beyond his battle with Marco Rubio over their roles in the 2013 immigration debate.

New Presidents, Old Statues and Guns: The Year in Higher Education, by Matthew Watkins — College campuses always seem to attract controversy, but in 2015 Texas universities seemed to have more than their normal share.

In Alabama, Sessions Defends Cruz on Gang of Eight, by Patrick Svitek — Ted Cruz, locked in a heated battle with Marco Rubio over their immigration records, received an assist Saturday afternoon from one of the most hardline opponents of illegal immigration in the U.S. Senate.

Cruz Campaign to Open Volunteer Residence in New Hampshire, by Patrick Svitek — The Cruz campaign could house 40 volunteers nightly for its push on the ground in the key early voting primary state.

Former State Lawmaker Chris Harris Dead at 67, by Ross Ramsey — Chris Harris, a smart and gruff former state legislator from Tarrant County, died early Saturday morning. He was 67.

In Rubio Feud, Cruz Camp Seeks Pivot to Offense, by Patrick Svitek — As the Cruz campaign tells it, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz led the fight against the Gang of Eight immigration bill, while Rubio's fingerprints are all over it.

At Year's End, Lots in Flux For Public Education, by Kiah Collier — From the appointment of a new Texas education commissioner to Congress passing a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, these are the top public education stories of 2015.

Prosecutors, Insurer Change Controversial Funding Deal, by Jay Root and Tony Plohetski, Austin American-Statesman — Big changes are coming to the controversial funding agreement between Texas Mutual Insurance and the Travis County district attorney's office. The changes follow an investigation by The Texas Tribune and the Austin American-Statesman.

In Iowa, Davis Tells Clinton Backers to Keep Foot on the Gas, by Abby Livingston — It's been more than a year since Wendy Davis resoundingly lost her Texas gubernatorial bid, but she was no political afterthought in a campaign swing for Hillary Clinton in Iowa.

SMU Opts Out of Campus Carry, by Matthew Watkins — Southern Methodist University in Dallas has joined the growing list of private colleges in Texas opting out of the state's new campus carry law.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Appoints Allen West to Texas Sunset Commission, by Aman Batheja — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Friday announced the appointment of conservative firebrand Allen West, a former Florida congressman and prominent Fox News contributor, to the state's Sunset Commission.

Elsewhere

Federal spokeswoman: More immigrant children coming to North Texas, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

$1b in disaster relief funds from Ike, Dolly still unspent 7 years later, Houston Chronicle

Local legislators don't plan to openly carry handguns, Amarillo Globe-News

Texas horsemen ask state leaders to help their industry survive, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

As psychiatrist’s abuse case drags, accuser expresses frustration, Austin American-Statesman

Premont ISD to stay open, Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Ted Cruz super PAC tweaks Marco Rubio in new ad, Politico

Poll: Ted Cruz leads in Iowa; Donald Trump stays atop NH, SC, CBS News

As Rep. Brady rises on Capitol Hill, he faces primary challenge at home, Houston Chronicle

Straus faces two-candidate challenge from the far right in Republican primary, San Antonio Express-News

Hospitality and Gambling Interests Delay Closing of Billion-Dollar Tax Loophole, The New York Times

Mexican banker under fire is tied to S.A. business empire, San Antonio Express-News

Quote to Note

"Donald Trump is like that stray dog anybody can pet and it will follow you home. ... He's a seriously damaged individual who is deeply insecure and needs attention and praise and the source doesn't matter."

Former top Mitt Romney adviser Stuart Stevens to Politico on Trump's warm words last week for Russian President Vladimir Putin

Today in TribTalk

I'm a survivor of Texas' broken foster care system, by Kristopher Sharp — For more than two decades ... the state has created a situation where "children have been shuttled throughout a system where rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm." I was one of those children.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A conversation with state Reps. Celia Israel, Eddie Rodriguez and Paul Workman on Jan. 14 at St. Edward's University in Austin

•    The Texas Tribune's second Texas-centric Trivia Night on Jan. 31 at The Highball in Austin

•    A conversation with Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and Rep. Jose Manuel Lozano on Feb. 25 at Texas A&M University-Kingsville

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