The Big Conversation

Iowa voters today inaugurate the next phase in the race to determine the country’s next president as they stage the first nominating contest of the year.

With candidates who position themselves as political outsiders poised to take the Republican and Democratic caucuses, The New York Times reports that Iowa might take on an even greater than usual importance in the overall nominating process.

Iowa voters’, the Times’ Trip Gabriel wrote, “embrace of candidates on the ideological fringes has amplified a national grass-roots rebellion against establishment politicians.

“Both Democrats and Republicans have seen their presumptive nominees of a year ago — deeply experienced, proven political leaders — brushed aside by Iowans in favor of idol-smashing outsiders.”

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On the Republican side, polls would indicate that the race is between Donald Trump and Texas’ Ted Cruz. The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan and Abby Phillip report that Trump has forged a lead over Cruz “who has been badly wounded by attacks after he looked poised to win late last year. But uncertainty about who will turn out to vote has led some to believe that Cruz could still spring an upset.”

The Tribune’s Patrick Svitek is reporting this morning that Cruz and his allies are spending the last hours before voting starts managing expectations on how Cruz will finish:

“Cruz and his allies are asking supporters to put the race in perspective, recalling how small of a chance Cruz was given when he launched his campaign 10 months ago. Now, they say, Cruz is poised for a top-tier finish in the first early voting state. … Campaign officials are confident Cruz will win Monday … but they dispute the idea he was ever the prohibitive frontrunner in Iowa.”

And the Tribune’s Ross Ramsey notes this morning that what Iowa voters do today has “consequences for upcoming primaries like the March 1 vote in Texas and for the parties going into the November general election. The Republican field won’t be so splintered, and downballot candidates won’t have to sputter when asked which presidential contender is their favorite.”

One thing appears clear: today’s voting is just the first step in what promises to be a long slog through the national party conventions this summer. Former Mitt Romney strategist Stuart Stevens told the Times, “We’re going to look back on Iowa in March and April, and it’s going to seem like the Crimean War. This thing is just beginning.”

Trib Must Reads

After Iowa, Texas to be Key State for Ted Cruz, by Abby Livingston — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz must win his home state on March 1, especially if real estate magnate Donald Trump runs the table in the first three primaries.

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Houston Slayings Fueled Border Security Debate, by Jay Root — One year ago today, Spencer Golvach waited for the green light at a Houston intersection. An undocumented Mexican national pulled up next to him, pointed a pistol at Golvach’s head and pulled the trigger. The killing ignited a political firestorm.

Texas GOP v. Planned Parenthood: A Scorecard, by Alexa Ura — Almost six months ago, undercover videos purported to show Planned Parenthood official in Texas discussing illegal acts. Texas Republicans pounced, opening up multiple battlefronts against the embattled women’s health organization.

Trailing Trump in Iowa, Cruz Presses Closing Arguments, by Patrick Svitek — Staring down a close finish in the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz on Saturday downplayed a key poll showing him trailing Donald Trump in the state's Republican presidential race.

Cruz Draws Rebuke for Controversial Mailer in Iowa, by Patrick Svitek — Ted Cruz on Saturday drew the ire of the top elections official in Iowa over a mailer from his presidential campaign that seeks to pressure voters into turning out for the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses.

In Iowa, Cruz Campaign Places its Turnout Bet Against Trump, by Patrick Svitek — Cruz campaign officials are increasingly eyeing a win based on a kind of sweet spot of turnout — high but not too high.

Oil Driller's Lawsuit Could Cost Texas Billions in Tax Refunds, by Jim Malewitz — What is the definition of "tangible personal property?" The arcane question is at the center of a lawsuit that could reap energy companies a multibillion-dollar windfall and drain the state's budget surplus.

Court: State Can Deny Funds for "Machete" Producers, by Jamie Lovegrove — The Texas Film Commission acted within its authority when it decided after the release of the film "Machete" to deny its producers state incentive funds, a court ruled Friday.

Clinton Campaign Adds Another Staffer in Texas, by Patrick Svitek — Carlos Sanchez, most recently chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, is joining Hillary Clinton's efforts in Texas as press secretary, according to a campaign official.

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Cheerleader Case Can Proceed, State Supreme Court Rules, by Jordan Rudner — An East Texas cheerleading squad suing for their right to wave religious banners at football games will be allowed to continue with their lawsuit, the Texas Supreme Court announced in a unanimous opinion released Friday.

In Iowa Homestretch, Cruz Refocuses Attention on Rubio, by Patrick Svitek — In the homestretch before the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz's presidential campaign appears to be refocusing some of its attention on a Republican opponent not named Donald Trump: U.S. Senate colleague Marco Rubio.

Ted Cruz Announces Huge War Chest, by Patrick Svitek — Ted Cruz's presidential campaign announced Friday it ended 2015 with $19 million in the bank.

The Day Ahead

•    Today is the last day to register to vote for the March 1 primary elections. Applications must be received by the voter registrar or postmarked at least 30 days before an election. The Secretary of State has more information on the office's website on how to register to vote.

Elsewhere

No easy answers as Texas weighs fate of immigrant detention centers, Austin American-Statesman

Texas to Offer GED Alternatives After Test Costs Triple, Texas Observer

Senator John Cornyn Aims to Sway Fellow Republicans on Criminal Justice, The New York Times

Baylor faces accusations of ignoring sex assault victims, ESPN

Lawmakers blast sheriff for jail inspector cuts, Houston Chronicle

Loss of Planned Parenthood from state Medicaid would affect low-income women, Houston Chronicle

School choice rally draws thousands to Capitol, Austin American-Statesman

After 25 years, a chance to begin again, San Antonio Express-News

Cruz, Abbott alliance keeps on giving, San Antonio Express-News

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson write checks to Ted Cruz, The Washington Post

Rep. Al Green endorses Clinton, giving her sweep of Houston delegation, Houston Chronicle

Bush name isn’t magic in Texas this time around, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Amid VP rumors, Texas Gov. Abbott plans to ‘wait and see’ about a presidential endorsement, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Quote to Note

"No."

— Gov. Greg Abbott, when asked if he would be Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's running mate and if he had national ambitions.

Today in TribTalk

Arrest of Mexican kingpin "El Chapo" won't slow Texas drug trade, by Gary Hale, Tony Payan and Nathan Jones — Until Mexico develops a new law enforcement model to combat the drug cartels, the arrest of drug kingpins such as Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán will make little to no difference to drug trafficking in Texas and across the United States.

Considerations for the Texas primaries, by Wayne Thorburn — The overriding uncertainty for the 2016 primaries in a state without party registration is not how many will vote but in which political party’s primary they will participate.

Abbott should fix Texas’ problems before amending U.S. Constitution, by Ana Jordan — I agree that the U.S. Constitution could use some tweaking, but before the governor takes on the immense task of fixing all that is wrong with out federal government, he should first fix what is wrong in Texas, starting with an amendment banning partisan gerrymandering.

News From Home

•    Tune in for the latest episode of The Ticket, a co-production of the Tribune and KUT. What is it like covering a presidential campaign in Iowa? KUT’s Ben Philpott take us behind the scenes to find out. The Tribune’s Patrick Svitek stops by and breaks down the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucus. 

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation with Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer on Feb. 4 at the Austin Club

•    A Conversation with Sen. José Menéndez on Feb. 11 at the Austin Club

•    The Ticket: A Live Recording and Democratic Primary Debate Watch Party on Feb. 11 at KUT Public Media Studios in Austin

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

•    A Conversation with Sen. Carlos Uresti and Rep. Poncho Nevárez on March 23 at Sul Ross State University in Alpine

•    Symposium on Transportation on March 29 at Texas A&M University in College Station