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The Brief: In Texas, Voters Are None Too Thrilled With Choices

In today’s installment of the UT/TT Poll, the survey found that voters overall aren’t that pleased with their options for president. At least 40 percent of Texas voters had unfavorable opinions about all four leading candidates.

Senator Ted Cruz speaks to Texas reporters in Columbia following the South Carolina Republican presidential primary on Feb...

The Big Conversation

Donald Trump easily won the Nevada Republican presidential caucuses on Tuesday night. And in a repeat of last weekend’s contest in South Carolina, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were battling for second place.

According to early vote totals reported by The Associated Press, Rubio led Cruz for second place — 23.7 percent to 20.2 percent. Trump led with 46.5 percent of the vote.

The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll revealed yesterday who were the leading candidates heading into next week’s Texas primary races: Cruz and Trump for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats.

In today’s installment of the poll results, the survey found that voters overall aren’t that pleased with those candidates. At least 40 percent of Texas voters had unfavorable opinions about all four candidates.

And all four leading candidates were “underwater” with the voters, meaning that their unfavorable ratings surpassed their favorable ratings.

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Voters were most polarized by Trump (29 percent favorable, 59 percent unfavorable) and Clinton (33 percent favorable, 53 percent unfavorable). Cruz was next (36 percent favorable, 48 percent unfavorable), followed by Sanders (34 percent favorable, 43 percent unfavorable).

“The suggestion here is that for candidates, particularly Trump, where you have 12 percent who think he could be great,” said Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “But then you get 42 percent saying he would be terrible, which outstrips everything.

“Hillary is a little bit the same way,” he said. “Even though she is such a known quantity, she’s polarizing.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Trib Must Reads

Open Senate Seat Sparks Four-Way East Texas Race, by Madlin Mekelburg — With longtime state Sen. Kevin Eltife's retirement, four GOP candidates in Senate District 1 are racing to define themselves as conservative outsiders, including state Reps. Bryan Hughes and David Simpson.

How Is Ken Paxton Paying For His Criminal Defense?, by Morgan Smith — How Ken Paxton is paying for his high-octane legal defense team is one of the ongoing puzzles in the criminal case against the Texas attorney general. Paxton has said he is not using public money or government funds, but that leaves more questions than answers.

In Final Weeks, Millions Spent in Handful of House Races, by Alexa Ura — As Texas primary races head into the final stretch, the latest campaign finance reports show House Speaker Joe Straus and a handful of his allies are spending big to fight off their Tea Party-backed challengers.

Former Lawmakers Make Bids to Return to Texas House, by Julián Aguilar and Lauren Flannery — Whether they were edged out in 2014 by thin margins or bowed out years ago and had a recent change of heart, several former House members want back under the dome next year.

Cruz Campaign Pulls Work from Controversial Artist Sabo, by Patrick Svitek — Ted Cruz's presidential campaign abruptly stopped selling work from an artist with a history of making controversial, and at times racist, statements online.

The Day Ahead

•    Gov. Greg Abbott and presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Ben Carson are all scheduled to appear at the Harris County Republican Party’s Lincoln Reagan Day Dinner in Houston at 7:30 p.m., which is being held a day before GOP presidential candidates take part in the final debate before the Super Tuesday nominating contests.

Elsewhere

Behind Ted Cruz’s Campaign Manager, Scorched Earth and Election Victories, The New York Times

Abbott turns to unlikely ally to help on Iran sanctions, Houston Chronicle

Texas hospitals develop rapid Zika test, USA Today 

UH faculty suggest steering clear of some subjects if students armed, Houston Chronicle

For psychiatrist, substance abuse treatment begins with research, Houston Chronicle

Students 4 Bernie: Austin Community College stymied campus activism, Austin American-Statesman

Texas education commissioner says he favors smaller-scale tests, Austin American-Statesman

School district workers begin living wage campaign, San Antonio Express-News 

S.A. Senate race draws big money, San Antonio Express-News

Shouts of ‘liar’ are taking their toll on Ted Cruz’s campaign, The Washington Post

Quote to Note

“I've met much tougher people than Ted Cruz. He is like a baby compared to some of the people I have to deal with. He is like a little baby: soft, weak, little baby by comparison.”

— Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaking to supporters in Sparks, Nevada, about his rival Ted Cruz

News From Home

•    The Tribune's Executive Editor Ross Ramsey breaks down via video five things to watch for in the 2016 Texas primaries.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    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 Sid Miller, Texas Agriculture Commissioner on March 10 at the Austin Club

•    How High is the Water? A Data Visualization Party on March 13 at Umbel Corp

•    A Conversation with Reps. Craig Goldman, Stephanie Klick and Ramon Romero Jr. on March 29 at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

•    A Conversation with Sen. Carlos Uresti and Rep. Poncho Nevárez on April 13 at Sul Ross State University in Alpine

•    A Symposium on the Texas Economy on April 29 at the University of Houston

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