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OFF TO THE RACES: Trump, Clinton still lead

Our latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey national tracking poll shows Clinton and Trump still holding double-digit leads for their respective party's nomination.

The Democratic presidential hopefuls faced off at Monday night's Brown and Black Forum, NBC's Monica Alba and Alex Seitz-Wald report.

Introducing a new feature: Tales from the Trail. Our NBC News campaign embeds have been crisscrossing the country following the 2016 candidates. Here’s the first edition of a new daily dispatch from them about what’s going on behind the scenes, from Ben Carson’s claims of newfound energy to a protestor’s surprising objection at Donald Trump’s latest rally. And why does Jeb Bush have blood on his shirt? Check it out and look for more dispatches from NBC’s reporters on the ground.

Two political reporters swapped beats last week. Here's what they learned from covering each other’s' candidates.

BUSH: Opponents would argue that Jeb Bush hasn't exactly been completely consistent on immigration himself, but a new ad from his super PAC today targets Marco Rubio as a "weather vane" on the issue. "Marco Rubio, just another Washington politician you can't trust," is the ad's tagline.

CLINTON: The Huffington Post reports: "Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday attempted to defend his controversial vote to protect gun producers and sellers from legal liability if a gun is used in a crime, but proposed a revision to the law that already exists."

A big look from the New York Times at the state of the Democratic race in Iowa: "Iowa Democrats are displaying far less passion for Hillary Clinton than for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont three weeks before the presidential caucuses, creating anxiety inside the Clinton campaign as she scrambles to energize supporters and to court wavering voters."

She was repeatedly pressed on immigration policy at yesterday's Brown and Black forum in Iowa, the Des Moines Register notes. And as NBC points out, she called for an end to deportation raids.

Chelsea Clinton will hit the road in New Hampshire today to campaign for her mom.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence will endorse Clinton at a campaign stop in Ames, Iowa.

POLITICO has the details on the new tax on the wealthy she proposed in Iowa yesterday.

CHRISTIE: Via the Boston Globe: "Like Mitt Romney, Chris Christie is a blue-state governor in a Republican presidential primary. In choosing to adjust to meet the expectations of a more conservative audience, at a time when polls say voters crave authenticity, he has opened himself to attacks [that] he lacks core convictions. … Christie once supported national education standards, he’s now against them. After backing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, now he’s opposed."

CRUZ: Today in campaign problems: Wealthy donors are confused by the swelling number of pro-Cruz super PACs, questioning which organization is the best steward of their cash.

Ted Cruz says he plays golf "horribly."

HUCKABEE: He is still trudging along in Iowa despite dismal poll numbers. Vaughn Hillyard has a great look from the ground at the state of his campaign.

PAUL: He says he'll boycott the undercard debate after missing the cut for Thursday's primetime debate hosted by FOX Business Network.

One of his top staffers is leaving, POLITICO notes.

TRUMP: He said of Clinton during his appearance on Jimmy Fallon: "I haven't even started on her yet."

He's continuing his feud against the New Hampshire Union Leader, NBC's Kailani Koenig reports.

OBAMA AGENDA: Obama’s final SOTU

President Barack Obama had this to say about Donald Trump in an exclusive interview with NBC News on TODAY. "The message that Donald Trump's putting out has had adherence a lot of times during the course of our history. You know, talk to me if he wins. Then we'll have a conversation about how responsible I feel about it."

The New York Times, on Obama's true feelings on the threat of terrorism. "In a recent off-the-record meeting with columnists, he emphasized that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, did not threaten the United States in a fundamental way, according to people who were in the room. As a result, he said, the danger does not merit an all-out military response involving American ground troops. He would send significant numbers of those forces to the Middle East, he added, only in the event of a terrorist attack in the United States so catastrophic that it all but paralyzed the country with fear. The president is more careful about expressing such an analysis in public, acutely aware that his past comments have made him look as if he was underestimating the threat."

"After six years of pitching ambitious proposals in his annual speech to Congress, Obama plans to take a rhetorical step back this year as he opens the final stretch of his presidency, in which he has less control over the nation's political agenda than ever before. By returning to the hopeful tenor of his two presidential campaigns, Obama also hopes to give voice to themes that Democrats can embrace in their campaigns to replace him and win back control of Congress," writes the AP.


*** Tuesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Andrea Mitchell anchors a special State of the Union show from Capitol Hill. Andrea will be joined by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Chairman of the House Republican Caucus Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Senator Chris Murphy to preview President Obama’s last State of the Union speech. NBC’s Richard Engel will join us with the latest on today’s bombing in Istanbul. Hallie Jackson, Katy Tur and Kristen Welker will check in from the 2016 campaign trail.