The Big Conversation

Houston is center stage of the GOP presidential race with a trio of contenders — Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson — on hand for events yesterday ahead of today’s debate.

The Tribune’s Patrick Svitek has the rundown:

Many of the campaigns saw a convenient reason to visit ahead of the debate, which is being held Thursday at the University of Houston. Yet they also acknowledged an additional incentive: being able to build some support in a state that will award its 155 delegates — the biggest batch yet — on a proportional basis

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A flood of new polls accompanied the day, though they offered little consensus about how strong Cruz's advantage is at home. One of the surveys, done by WFAA, found Cruz tied with Trump for first at 32 percent, while three others gave Cruz leads over Trump ranging from 1 point to 15 points. 

Not on hand yesterday was front-runner Donald Trump, who will be in Fort Worth on Friday for a rally. Carson and Rubio both have events planned in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at the end of the week as well while Cruz will be campaigning Monday and Tuesday around Dallas, San Antonio and Houston ahead of what could be a make or break Super Tuesday for him.

The Tribune’s Matthew Watkins reports that the debate will heighten UH’s profile but few students will be seen in the audience at tonight’s forum. Just 25 tickets were made available to the university, an effect of the setting aside of more than 400 spaces for accredited members of the media.

“We knew that tickets will be limited, but ‘25’ was a much lower number than I was ready to hear,” said university President Renu Khator in a blog post this week.

Disclosure: The University of Houston was a corporate sponsor of the Tribune in 2013. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Trib Must Reads

Undocumented Killer Had Extensive Teen Record, by Terri Langford — Before two murders landed him in Texas prison, Obed Josafhat Rodriguez racked up a criminal history stretching back to his first arrest for stealing a car at age 12, but his immigration status failed to trigger any action while he was a juvenile. This story is part of our "Bordering on Insecurity" series.

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UT/TT Poll: Texans Favor Background Checks on All Gun Sales, by Ross Ramsey — Texas voters overwhelmingly support mental and criminal background checks on all gun purchases in the U.S. — including gun shows and private sales, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

UT/TT Poll: Bar Muslims, Deport Undocumented Immigrants, by Ross Ramsey — Almost half of the state’s voters support banning non-U.S. Muslims from entering the country, and more than half support immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants now living the U.S., according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Chris Kyle Widow Demands Bo French Stop Using Him in Campaign, by Jamie Lovegrove — Lawyers representing Taya Kyle, the widow of famous Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, sent a cease-and-desist letter Wednesday to Texas House candidate Bo French.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Dismisses Rick Perry Indictment, by Jim Malewitz and Ross Ramsey — The state’s highest criminal court dismissed the remaining indictment against former Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday morning, apparently ending the case that started with his threat to veto state funding for a local prosecutor if she refused to quit her office. 

Greg Abbott Endorses Ted Cruz for President, by Patrick Svitek — Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed Ted Cruz for president, giving the U.S. senator more home-state support with just under a week until its primary. 

The Day Ahead

•    The Tribune’s CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith will have a conversation with state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and state Rep. Jose Manuel Lozano, R-Kingsville, at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. The lunch hour conversation begins at noon and will be live streamed for those unable to attend the event.

•    Tonight is the final Republican debate before the March 1 primaries. It begins at 7:30 p.m. on CNN.

Elsewhere

Name Confusion Could Be Key in Texas Supreme Court Race, Texas Observer

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Two billionaires write checks to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus’ leading challenger, The Dallas Morning News

Student newspaper retracts story that got Ted Cruz’s national spokesman fired, The Dallas Morning News

Some Texas professors say guns in classes could chill debate, The Associated Press

Travis County Public Integrity Unit still reels from Perry’s budget cut, Austin American-Statesman 

Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton lead among Texas voters in latest poll, Austin American-Statesman

CPS Energy writes off $391.4 million from South Texas Project nuclear expansion, San Antonio Express-News

Climate of change coming to energy, Houston Chronicle

Abbott-Cruz relationship has benefited both, Houston Chronicle

New poll shows Cruz, Trump tied in Texas, Fort Worth Star-Telegram 

Quote to Note

“We can’t get this wrong. We can’t be fooled by P.T. Barnum. The time for the clowns and the acrobats and the dancing bears has passed.”

— U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, talking about why this presidential election is so important.

Today in TribTalk

Why I'm for Marco Rubio, by Jason Villalba — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has shown time and again during this contest that he is the best-prepared person to lead a post-Obama United States.

Why I'm against taxpayer-funded lobbying, by Konni Burton — I believe there is a distinct difference between a private company that uses its profits to hire a lobbyist and government entities that use taxpayer dollars to do the same. Let me explain my reasoning on why I will gladly meet with one but not the other.

News From Home

•    On this week's Tribcast, Executive Editor Ross Ramsey talks to Evan Smith, Alexa Ura and Jim Malewitz about the dismissal of Rick Perry's indictments, the new UT/TT Poll and next week's Democratic and Republican primaries.

•    In this week’s Roundup, Alana Rocha takes a look at Perry being cleared of the last of his charges related to a 2013 veto threat and the homecoming of Ted Cruz, who is hoping to lay the groundwork to win after Super Tuesday’s contests.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    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