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The Lid: Cruz Readies for First GOP Debate as Top-Tier Candidate

Welcome to The Lid, your afternoon dose of the 2016 ethos… Tonight’s Republican presidential debate is in Las Vegas, which means that political reporters will be sure to write analogies about the 2016 candidates “rolling the dice,” “having a poker face” and “being in a completely artificial environment designed to rob them of their money and self-respect.”

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‘16 from 30,000

Tonight is the fifth Republican presidential debate, but it’s the first for Ted Cruz as a clear top tier candidate. And as NBC’s Perry Bacon wrote today, we’ll be looking to see if he can handle the scrutiny that Ben Carson could not. The Cruz vs. Trump and/or Rubio dynamic is expected to be a prominent storyline tonight, and there are some real policy differences between the leading Republican candidates -- perhaps most notably when it comes to immigration. We also could see a Rubio/Cruz spat over national security after Rubio labeled his rival an isolationist. And how will Trump respond to conservative pushback after the real estate mogul called Cruz a “maniac”? You can follow the full play-by-play on our live blog here.

POPPING ON NBC POLITICS

  • Ted Cruz has plenty of momentum, but he’s no slam dunk yet, Vaughn Hillyard reports.
  • Mark Murray asks: Is Jeb Bush’s TV ad campaign the least effective in presidential history?
  • Is Ted Cruz ready for his closeup? Perry Bacon Jr. reports.
  • NBC’s Monica Alba has the details on on Clinton’s big ISIS policy speech in Minneapolis today.
  • What to watch during tonight’s GOP debate? We gotcha covered.
  • NBC’s Peter Alexander confirms reports that Sheldon Adelson and Donald Trump will meet in Vegas Tuesday. (NBC’s Kasie Hunt notes that Bush, Rubio and Cruz also met with him as well.)

FOR THE RECORD…

“That’s some bomb sh**.”

  • Rapper Killer Mike praising Bernie Sanders’ work with the civil rights group Student Nonviolent Organizing Committee during an interview he conducted with the Democratic presidential candidate.

TOMORROW’S SKED

Marco Rubio holds campaign rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire.

HIllary Clinton hold an event with Warren Buffet in Omaha, Nebraska.

Donald Trump holds a rally in Mesa, Arizona. He also appears as a guest on the Jimmy Kimmel Show.