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First Read's Morning Clips: The Battle for Second

A roundup of the most important political news stories of the day
Image: A combination image of Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz (L) and  Marco Rubio
A combination image of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaking at a campaign event in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 22, 2016 and U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaking during a campaign town hall at Easley High School in Easley, South Carolina on Feb. 14, 2016. / Josh Edelson/Chris Keane / AFP - Getty Images/Reuters

OFF TO THE RACES: The battle for second in Nevada

In Nevada, it's a battle for second.

From the New York Times: "Donald J. Trump’s Republican rivals are seeking to make a stand against him in the Nevada caucuses on Tuesday, their last chance to slow his momentum before a dozen states vote on the party’s presidential nomination next week. But it may be difficult to stop Mr. Trump in Nevada, where he has enjoyed a high profile because of his business dealings in Las Vegas and where only a small number of voters have typically participated in the caucuses."

From our latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll: "Data from the latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking poll conducted online from Feb 15-21 shows that nationally, Clinton maintains a double-digit lead over Sanders among black voters—65 percent to 22 percent. She also maintains her overall national lead 51% to 40%."

And on the GOP side: "Our new national numbers from the past week show that the race remained largely unchanged, although Marco Rubio’s overall number creeped up 2 points from last week to 16 percent. Donald Trump continues to hold a commanding double-digit lead over all other Republican candidates with 36 percent; Ted Cruz remains in second place with 19 percent—just 3 points ahead of Rubio."

CARSON: He said of Barack Obama: "He was, you know, raised white... For him to, you know, claim that, you know, he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch."

CLINTON: She'll campaign with the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner.

One state to watch: Massachusetts, where it could be a very tight race on the Democratic side.

CRUZ: NBC's Vaughn Hillyard reports that Ted Cruz has shifted his tone on deportations, now saying that "of course" he would support federal law enforcement agents actively looking for undocumented immigrants to deport.

He fired spokesman Rick Tyler amid "dirty tricks" charges.

KASICH: Allies of Marco Rubio want John Kasich to get out of the Florida senator's way.

RUBIO: From Alex Jaffe and Vaughn Hillyard: "Over the past month, Rubio and his advisers have kept up a steady drumbeat of attacks singularly focused on painting Cruz as dishonest, deceptive and willing to do anything to win an election. Their efforts — compounded by Donald Trump picking up the narrative after the Iowa caucuses, and hammering it home over the past week — have contributed to Cruz's sinking approval ratings and diminishing support. The attacks even led, indirectly, to the firing Monday of a top Cruz staffer."

He's betting on Nevada, a state where he spent some of his childhood. From the New York Times: "More than 30 years after he and his family left, homesick for Miami and still looking for the better opportunities they could not find here, Mr. Rubio is returning to ask Nevada to help elect him president. With the state’s Republican caucuses on Tuesday — a contest that Mr. Rubio’s campaign has poured considerable resources into, betting that a strong finish will bolster his status as the best candidate to unite his fractured party — his experience here as an adolescent goes a long way in explaining how his conservative outlook took shape. It also leaves an intriguing question about what political identity he might have developed had he remained."

From the Washington Post: "Mainstream Republican donors and elected officials flocked to Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) on Monday amid a growing sense that he is the last best chance to prevent Donald Trump from running away with the ­Republican presidential nomination. But Rubio’s path remains narrow and perilous. He has yet to win a state, and a raft of major March 1 contests known as ­“Super Tuesday” offers few obvious chances for him to do so. And if Trump keeps racking up wins, it will become more difficult to blunt his progress."

SANDERS: He went on offense against Clinton on Monday with some of his most direct jabs yet, NBC’s Danny Freeman reports.

The Washington Post's analysis: "Young voters are failing Bernie Sanders, just as they’ve failed so many before"

He said Pope Francis is a socialist.

Spike Lee is backing the Vermont senator.

TRUMP: Per NBC's Ali Vitali, he said he'd like to punch a protestor in the face.

He called the Nevada caucuses a "dangerous system."

OBAMA AGENDA: Back to Gitmo

The Associated Press: “U.S. officials say the Pentagon's long-awaited plan to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer the remaining detainees to a facility in the United States calls for up to $475 million in construction costs that would ultimately be offset by as much as $180 million per year in operating cost savings. The plan, which will be delivered to Congress Tuesday, is the administration's last-ditch effort to make good on President Barack Obama's campaign vow to close Guantanamo and convince lawmakers to allow the Defense Department to move nearly 60 detainees to the U.S. But the plan provides few details, and may only further antagonize members of Congress who have repeatedly passed legislation banning any effort to move detainees to the U.S.”