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First Read's Morning Clips: Trump v. Cruz

A roundup of the most important political news stories of the day
Image: Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz
Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speak during the Republican presidential debate a on Jan.14, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Scott Olson / Getty Images, file

OFF TO THE RACES: Trump vs. Cruz

The big picture, from the New York Times: "The Republican contest after New Hampshire has in some respects been clarified into two parallel battles: between Mr. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, the anti-establishment duo, and among three establishment-friendly hopefuls. But on Wednesday the contenders began exchanging fire in a way that illustrated the complexities of the race — and the unique calculations each candidate is making."

From the Washington Post: "A state known for its nasty political brawls is about to host an epic one, pitting a foul-mouthed celebrity billionaire against a band of senators and governors scrapping to challenge him. The Republican presidential candidates arrived here Wednesday ready for 10 days of combat that could bring clarity to what so far has been a muddy nomination contest."

The Washington Post: "The race for the Democratic presidential nomination turned sharply Wednesday into a battle for Hispanic and African American voters, who are expected to play a decisive role in a long list of upcoming contests in Southern and Western states."

One of us(!) reports on the delegate race and the role that superdelegates are playing when it comes to the scoreboard results.

BLOOMBERG: From Benjy Sarlin: "The political world is still digesting the results from the Granite State, where self-described socialist Bernie Sanders and nativist Donald Trump each blew away rivals thanks to deep party support, but one consequence could be to coax former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to come off the sidelines. The thinking after New Hampshire, as described by a source familiar with the mayor’s plans, is that the results were anything but discouraging. The mayor sees a wider path if Trump or Senator Ted Cruz scores the GOP nomination, both of who appear well positioned after Tuesday. As for the Democrats, it’s not clear whether his thinking would be affected either way."

CHRISTIE: NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell writes that even though Chris Christie dropped out of the GOP race, he may be the candidate who's done the most to alter the outcome.

CLINTON: The New York Times: "The Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada were supposed to be an afterthought: lost in the shadows of high-profile battles in Iowa and New Hampshire, and fought in a state far off in the West where voters have a long, warm history with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Instead, after Mrs. Clinton’s overwhelming defeat in New Hampshire by Senator Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, eight days after she barely won the Iowa caucuses, Nevada is looming as a turning point in their increasingly competitive contest, offering critical tests of the two candidates’ strengths."

She'll get the endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC today.

Ruth Marcus writes: "Hillary Clinton needs to figure out how to talk to women — and fast"

KASICH: From the AP: "Ohio Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign a bill stripping government money from Planned Parenthood, a move that might help him with conservatives who dominate the upcoming Republican presidential primary in South Carolina."

RUBIO: "The best hope of the Republican establishment just a week ago, Marco Rubio suddenly faces a path to his party's presidential nomination that could require a brokered national convention," writes the AP. "That's according to Rubio's campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, who told The Associated Press that this week's disappointing performance in New Hampshire will extend the Republican nomination fight for another three months, if not longer. It's a worst-case scenario for Rubio and many Republican officials alike who hoped to avoid a prolonged and painful nomination fight in 2016."

SANDERS: The New York Times interviews black voters in Orangeburg, who largely love Clinton but are intrigued by Bernie Sanders.

His campaign says it has raised over $5 million since his win in New Hampshire.

TRUMP: Ali Vitali reports from South Carolina: "In his first rally since winning the Republican primary on Tuesday night, Trump told nearly 5,000 in the Palmetto State that he was the guy who could not only win in South Carolina, but beyond."

The Wall Street Journal profiles campaign manager Corey Lewandowski: "Though Mr. Lewandowski, a political-science major at the University of Massachusetts, lacks the national profile of some other, more-famous political operatives, he has worked in GOP campaigns much of his career. He lost in his own run for state office in Massachusetts as a college student, then subsequently worked on campaigns challenging establishment figures such as against New Hampshire Sen. John E. Sununu.In his previous job as New Hampshire director of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, he met Mr. Trump backstage at its 2014 conference in Concord."

"Donald Trump faces a new kind of test as the presidential nominating contest moves to the South, where many of the blue-collar voters that have formed his base of support are also evangelical Christians open to appeals from social conservatives," the Wall Street Journal notes.

OBAMA AGENDA: Back to Springfield

NBC's Ron Allen reports on the president's visit back to Springfield, Illinois, where he said "There's a yawning gap between the magnitude of the challenges we face and the smallness of our politics."