The Big Conversation

The pivotal and increasingly more difficult to predict GOP presidential primary in New Hampshire will happen tomorrow. As the Tribune’s Abby Livingston reports, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is campaigning with an urgency similar to his efforts in Iowa.

“Cruz already has an Iowa victory under his belt, and will soon turn to Republican supporters better aligned with his message in Southern states in the coming weeks,” Livingston wrote. “But he is campaigning here in New Hampshire as if there is not tomorrow: come Tuesday, he will have made at least 17 stops in a week’s time.”

Donald Trump has run strongly in the Granite State for a while now, and Livingston reports that the real race here is for second place with the four “establishment” candidates — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — “desperately need(ing) a strong finish here.”

Livingston adds, “Cruz could displace them all and take the second-place red ribbon, or his appeal to base voters could prove tone deaf here.”

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One of the wild cards at play heading into the final couple of days in New Hampshire: assessing exactly how much damage Rubio did to himself at Saturday’s GOP presidential debate.

“Rubio's performance could be a career damaging misstep, on par with Gov. Rick Perry's ‘oops’ debate moment, or the whole episode could be lost away with Super Bowl excitement,” Livingston wrote.

“But the exchange was on the mind of Teresa Cadorete, a Peterborough physician, at Cruz's Sunday event. Walking out of the town hall, she facetiously marveled after Cruz’s town hall that he was not ‘scripted,’ a dig at Rubio’s debate stumble.”

On Cruz’s mind Sunday was the question from the previous night’s debate in which some candidates said they would be OK with requiring women to register with the Selective Service when they turn 18, as all men are now.

"Listen, we have had enough with political correctness, especially in the military. Political correctness is dangerous," he told a New Hampshire town hall. "And the idea that we would draft our daughters to forcibly bring them into the military and put them in close combat, I think is wrong. it is immoral and if I’m president, we ain’t doing it."

Trib Must Reads

In Arlington Race, Challenger Says One Vote Speaks Volumes, by Matthew Watkins — Two years after knocking off an incumbent in the Republican primary, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, is fighting off his own challenger who argues Tinderholt is out of the mainstream.

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Analysis: Texas, Uncharacteristically, is an Early Primary State, by Ross Ramsey — The presidential field is shrinking, but the nominations won’t be decided until Texans have spoken. It’s partly a matter of timing and partly a matter of size.

A Bipartisan Punching Bag in Immigration Debates, by Jay Root — When she was a federal prosecutor in Texas, Sarah Saldaña was seen as hard-nosed and nonpartisan. Since President Obama appointed her to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she's learned to take hits from the left and right.

Trump Seizes Final Confrontation With Cruz Before Primary, by Abby Livingston — Donald Trump reserved his fire for Ted Cruz until the final moments of Saturday's GOP debate. The debate then wrapped, depriving Cruz of the chance to respond in real time.

Ben Carson, CNN Pounce on Ted Cruz During Debate, by Abby Livingston — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz apologized to Republican rival Ben Carson for a second time at Saturday night's GOP debate for what Carson has described as "dirty tricks" during Monday's Iowa caucuses.

Houston House Race a Test Case of Identity Politics, by Alexa Ura — The upcoming primary face-off between incumbent Gene Green and Adrian Garcia in Houston's 29th congressional district will test case the influence of identity politics in Texas Democratic races.

Sandra Bland's Mother Expands Lawsuit, by Johnathan Silver — Sandra Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, has added 10 Waller County officials in a federal lawsuit over her daughter's 2015 death in the Waller County Jail.

State Officials Investigating Rep. Dukes' Use of Staff, by Madlin Mekelburg and Terri Langford — The State Auditor's Office is investigating whether state Rep. Dawnna Dukes improperly required her legislative staffers to participate in work for a nonprofit group that she founded, a Capitol source told The Texas Tribune on Friday.

Hunt's Controversial Oncor Plan Could Spark Texas-Wide Trend, by Jim Malewitz — As Texas regulators weigh the Ray L. Hunt family’s plan to buy Oncor, the state's largest electric utility, and reorganize its corporate structure to save on taxes, at least one other giant utility is considering a similar move.

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Houston Sheriff Still Shielding Killer's Record, by Jay Root — The Harris County Sheriff's Office has decided to keep secret its investigative files on a Mexican national whose 2015 shooting spree in Houston left two people dead and three injured.

The Day Ahead

•    The Tribune's CEO and editor-in-chief Evan Smith is moderating a candidate forum for Republicans seeking a spot on the Railroad Commission beginning at 6 p.m. at KLRU Studio 6A in Austin. Attending the forum are candidates Lance Christian, Wayne Christian, Gary Gates, Doug Jeffery, Weston Martinez, John Greytok and Ron Hale

Elsewhere

Amid complaints, STAAR testing faces revamp, Austin American-Statesman

Rubio gains momentum as Texas presidential primary vote approaches, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Texas' porous ethics laws don't require lawyer-legislators to disclose bond work, Houston Chronicle

Crystal City left leaderless, San Antonio Express-News

State agency's letter says Children's Hope CEO cannot have 'direct oversight of children’, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Fracking research hits roadblock with Texas law, Houston Chronicle

Criticisms of the church unlikely to sour Pope Francis' visit to MexicoAustin American-Statesman

Sandbranch residents hang on despite lack of basic services, The Dallas Morning News

More than 20 Texas towns repeal sex offender residency law, The Associated Press

Battles heat up to lead Tarrant County Republican and Democratic parties, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Quote to Note

"I understand that in the media newsrooms and in the Washington establishment circles, Marco is the chosen one. In the media's telling, bronze is the new gold.”

— Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, telling reporters that the media has a bias towards his GOP rival Marco Rubio

Today in TribTalk

Prevention, not panic, is the best defense against Zika, by Ann Barnes — For us in the United States right now, prevention is key to addressing the Zika virus. Panic is not. There is a big difference.

Solar energy tax credit is an opportunity for Texans, by Howard “Scot” Arey — When Congress passed a five-year extension of the Solar Investment Tax Credit last year, it gave Texans an opportunity to make an investment in renewable energy that can help create well-paying jobs and maintain our energy security — all while keeping tax dollars in Texas.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    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

•    Live Post-Primary TribCast on March 2 at the Austin Club

•    Protecting Houston Before the Next Big Storm on March 3 at San Jacinto College Maritime Technology and Training Center in La Porte.

•    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