The Big Conversation

Ted Cruz focused his attention on Donald Trump, the man ahead of him in the polls and in the delegate count, at Thursday night’s debate between the remaining GOP presidential contenders.

The Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reported that Cruz made his appeal to voters not committed to Trump, urging them to consolidate in support of him as the best alternative to the billionaire front-runner.

"We welcome you to our team because we've demonstrated not once, not twice, not three times, but five separate times we have beat Donald,” Cruz said. “And if you don't want him to be the nominee, then I ask you to stand with us as a broad coalition."

Cruz chose this time not to attack Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Svitek wrote, “Cruz's campaign offered a simple explanation. ‘We see this as a two-person race between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,’ Cruz spokesman Ron Nehring told reporters.”

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Cruz and Rubio teamed up against Trump at several points in the debate, which maintained the contentious tone seen in previous encounters. Trump at one point called Cruz, “lyin’ Ted,” and Cruz returned fire, chiding Trump with “Donald, learn not to interrupt.”

And yet the candidates on stage promised at the end of the debate in Detroit to support the eventual nominee, whoever it might turn out to be.

The next set of nominating contests is set for this weekend, highlighted by caucuses in Kansas and Kentucky as well as a primary contest in Louisiana on Saturday.

Trib Must Reads

Hell and High Water: Houston's Perfect Storm, by Neena SatijaKiah Collier and Ryan Murphy — Houston is the nation's fourth-largest city and home to the largest refining and petrochemical complex in the United States. But many worry it's a sitting duck when the next big hurricane comes. Hell and High Water, a multimedia project done in partnership with ProPublica, looks at the unprecedented dangers for the region — and by extension, the U.S. economy. 

Five Texas Counties Rejected Clinton Twice, Eight Years Apart, by Annie Daniel and Ross Ramsey — Hillary Clinton ran for president in a Texas Democratic primary in 2008, winning most of the counties in the state. Eight years later, she did it again. We’ve mapped the results to show where she was consistently strong and weak.

For New UT-Dallas President, Campus Carry Debate is Personal, by Matthew Watkins — After watching in horror nine years ago as the building that housed his office at Virginia Tech University was attacked by a gunman, Richard Benson is preparing to lead a Texas university about to implement a new campus carry law.

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Analysis: Notes on a Texas Primary Election, by Ross Ramsey — This year’s political upheaval is nearly complete, at least in Texas. Most of what the state’s voters were going to get done in this election cycle got done on Tuesday.

Vote Delayed, But Hunt's Oncor Plan Inches Forward, by Jim Malewitz — Texas regulators are moving closer to allowing the Ray L. Hunt family to purchase and reshape Oncor, the state’s largest utility. But the high-stakes deal remains far from forged.

Abbott Weighs In on Controversial GOP Chairman, by Jordan Rudner — As the battle for control of the Travis County GOP heats up, and its newly elected chair writes increasingly raunchy tweets at a breakneck speed, Gov. Greg Abbott has stepped into the fray to condemn his fellow Republican.

Bullet Train Opponents Sue TxDOT and Paxton, by Madlin Mekelburg — A group opposed to to a private firm's plans to build a bullet train stretching from Dallas to Houston has filed a lawsuit in order to obtain communications between the firm and state officials.

Two Close Races May Be Heading to Recounts, by Jamie Lovegrove — Two of the closest races in Tuesday’s Texas Republican primary may not be over yet, as one candidate is requesting a recount and two others remain unclear which one of them made an expected runoff.

Supreme Court Hands Paxton Setback on Mercury Rule, by Jim Malewitz — The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request from Texas and 19 other states to block a landmark federal rule requiring power plants to slashes emissions of mercury, acid gases and other toxic metals emissions.

How Much Texas Politicians Spent per Vote in 2016, by Becca Aaronson — House Speaker Joe Straus spent $307 for every vote he got in Tuesday's primary election, leading the pack of state candidates. Here's a table detailing how much money selected state candidates spent for each vote they got.

Elsewhere

Kelly greeted with beer and apple pie on his return to Houston, Houston Chronicle

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Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's abuse-of-power case is not over yet, San Antonio Express-News

Caitlyn Jenner: If Ted Cruz is elected president, I’ll be his trans ambassador, The Dallas Morning News

State seeks to close Dallas’ Timberlawn psychiatric hospital over safety problems, The Dallas Morning News

Garcia: Uneasy night of triumph for local Republicans in Bexar County, San Antonio Express-News

Scalia’s death already strengthening EPA’s hand, farmers say, San Antonio Express-News

2016 Fox News Republican Debate: Donald Trump asserts his manhood at GOP debate, Politico

Surgeon General Murthy to Austin: Try a little tenderness, Austin American-Statesman

Texas expanding Zika testing, urging mosquito monitoring, Austin American-Statesman

Travis GOP Chairman-elect Robert Morrow’s Donald Trump connection, Austin American-Statesman

Quote to Note

“Gentlemen, you’ve got to do better than this.”

— Fox News debate moderator Chris Wallace, telling Donald Trump and Marco Rubio to stop snapping at each other during last night's Republican debate

Today in TribTalk

We will stop Robert Morrow from taking over the Travis County GOP, by Matt Mackowiak — Robert Morrow's election to the chairmanship of the Travis County GOP is a disaster for our party, and I will not rest until he is removed.

If a storm hits Houston, protection is less costly than recovery, by Bob Mitchell — We can wait until our hopes and dreams, and possibly our lives, are swept out to sea when the next big hurricane hits, or we can do something now.

The Texas GOP goes nativist in 2016, by Jim Henson and Joshua Blank — Renewed fears of terrorist attacks and a fiercely competitive Republican presidential nominating contest have brought to the surface a set of nativist attitudes that have not received such full-throated expression in American politics for at least several decades.

End of the road for the Driver Responsibility Program, by Greg Glod — Public safety on the roadways is certainly something lawmakers should strive to facilitate, but it shouldn't be done using an insurmountable tax that has left over a million Texans without a license.

News From Home

In this week’s Roundup, Alana Rocha talks about the newly elected Travis County GOP chairman, the U.S. Supreme Court hearing about Texas’ restrictions on abortion clinics and the firing of the officer who arrested Sandra Bland.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    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