SPENCER, Iowa—If the Republican race nationally is Donald Trump and everyone else, the race in Iowa has become Ted Cruz and everyone else. The Texas senator has surged here, and insiders on the ground agree he would win the caucuses if they were today, powered by a broad coalition that includes social conservatives, libertarians and tea partiers. But the caucuses are not for 24 days, and Cruz is now in the crosshairs.

— For the next three weeks, it will be open season on the 45-year-old in the Hawkeye State. It goes much further than questions about his eligibility to be president, an issue fanned by critics from Donald Trump to John McCain. The Donald had provided a sort of heat shield to keep Cruz out of the line of fire, but that’s gone. Here is a taste of who else is gunning for him:

Social conservative rivals are working to define Cruz as a divisive phony, and they’re still drawing crowds. While born-again evangelicals have shown signs of coalescing behind Cruz, other candidates continue to compete aggressively in that lane. Rick Santorum attacks him as weak on immigration. Mike Huckabee alludes to his lack of executive experience. Ben Carson pledges to build constructive relationships with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, which he said is key to ending the gridlock.

The ethanol lobby is birddogging Cruz everywhere he goes. Upset by his pledge to phase out the Renewable Fuel Standard, employees of an industry-funded group – which is run by the son of the popular Republican governor – follow Cruz everywhere he goes in a camper. They hand out flyers attacking him to people at his event. They have a field operation, run attack ads and plaster voters who might be amenable to Cruz with mailers.

Cruz has softened his rhetoric on ethanol over the course of the year. A surprising number of voters ask about the issue. Cruz felt compelled to respond in a Des Moines Register op-ed in yesterday’s paper. He tells crowds it is “complete nonsense” that he’s against the biofuel, and that he actually would work to advance the product by removing restrictions on how much of it refiners can mix into gasoline.

Rubio is targeting Cruz voters in an effort to prevail among the establishment candidates. Last night, the Florida senator’s campaign blasted out a Dallas Morning News story highlighting Phil Gramm’s support: “The former U.S. senator whom Cruz has cited as the ‘senator I most admire’ is supporting Rubio.”

Asked by reporters about McCain’s comment — expressing uncertainty about whether Cruz is a natural-born citizen – the Canadian-born candidate said it is only because everybody knows that John McCain is going to endorse Marco Rubio.” “Their foreign policies are almost identical,” he said. “Their immigration policies are identical. So it’s no surprise that people who are supporting other candidates are going to jump on the silly attacks that come as we get closer and closer to this election.”

— Even assuming Cruz wins on Feb. 1, it will not be with a majority. The field is too crowded, and too many Republicans dislike him. The more he gets attacked, the higher his negatives will go.

— Some of the attacks have resonated, and many socially conservative voters harbor doubts about Cruz. Last month’s Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, which put Cruz’s overall support at 31 percent among likely caucus-goers, had him pulling 45 percent of self-identified “evangelical conservatives.”

Several activists at a Huckabee rally last night, which drew 75 people, pointed to leaked audio of Cruz talking about gay marriage at a fundraiser in New York to express concern that he’s not authentic.

“Just look at his eyes,” said Sharon Adamson, 66, a retired teacher’s assistant from Ottumwa, who supports Huckabee. “I don’t think he’s honest when I look at those eyes.” She said she’s increasingly come to view Cruz as a typical politician. “You can’t believe anything politicians say,” she added.

“With Ted, there’s something there that doesn’t feel right,” said Dennis Andrews, 63 of Urbandale, who works at a manufacturing firm. “He tells you everything you want to hear, but then you hear that he says different things when he’s not in Iowa.”

I heard the same thing from some voters I spoke with at a Ben Carson event in Panora. “There are some things about Cruz that I really like, but I just don’t want the divisiveness,” said Kathy Symonaitis, 69, a retiree. “He tends to be very divisive, and people don’t take to that. We need someone who can sit down with people and get things done.”

— The question is how many more people will come to see Cruz this way after three more weeks of sustained attacks. At a town hall meeting here in northwest Iowa, continuing his six-day bus tour, Cruz closed by suggesting that the establishment is trying to divide conservatives so that a moderate can win the nomination. The newish Iowa frontrunner warned everyone to expect a lot more nasty stuff in the days ahead. With snow falling outside, he suggested that the anti-Cruz mailers can be put to good use. “They make great kindling,” he said.


Two Palestinian men born in Iraq who came to the United States as refugees were arrested in connection with terrorism investigations, the Justice Department announced. One was nabbed in Sacramento and charged with making a false statement. The other is from Houston and was charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS. (Adam Goldman)

  • Cruz quickly seized on the news to redouble his call for the end of Syrian refugee resettlement and an undefined new vetting of refugees already in the country. “These arrests underscore how utterly indefensible President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s proposal is to bring tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into this country,” he said in Goldfield, Iowa, per David Weigel.
  • Alabama sued the federal government, accusing the Obama administration of violating the Refugee Act of 1980 by not properly contacting local officials about resettling Syrians. (Reuters)
  • A man armed with a knife was shot dead outside a police station in northern Paris on the one-year anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Authorities said the man was shouting “Allahu akhbar” — “God is great” in Arabic — and had a piece of paper depicting the ISIS flag. (BuzzFeed)

Donald Trump said at a late-night rally in Burlington, Vt., he wants to eliminate gun-free zones at schools and on military bases. “My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day. There’s no more gun-free zones,” he said. (Watch a video of all the disruptions during the event.)

— Obama published a New York Times op-ed just before his CNN town hall to sell his executive action on guns: “I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform.” He added it will be up to future elected officials to carry the torch: “Common-sense gun reform won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my presidency.” (Gun sales have spiked again in the wake of Obama’s announcement. Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura say the country is more polarized than ever on the issue.)

— On the fifth anniversary of her shooting, Gabby Giffords pens an op-ed in today’s Post“I was shot in the head from three feet away, but somehow I survived … Instead of focusing on what I cannot do, I have tried to live without limits. … Reducing the number of Americans murdered or injured by guns is also not easy. It’s a long, hard haul. But we cannot falter now, and we cannot wait for a Congress in the gun lobby’s grip to prevent any of the 12,000 gun murders that happen in our country every year.”

— Chinese stocks rebounded overnight after the main index lost 12 percent of its value during the first four days of the week. This could mean a good day stateside after a pretty brutal four days. (Simon Denyer)


  1. Beyonce will perform at halftime of Super Bowl 50, joining headliner Coldplay. (AP)
  2. New York will appoint an independent civilian to monitor the NYPD’s counterterrorism investigations as part of a settlement to lawsuits stemming from post-9/11 spying on Muslims. (Adam Goldman)
  3. Seventeen miners were rescued after being trapped in an elevator 900 feet below the ground in Lansing, N.Y. (ABC News)
  4. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to reclassify manatees as “threatened” because the population has grown enough to no longer be labeled an “endangered” species. (AP)
  5. The sheriff of Harney County, Ore., met with the armed protesters occupying a wildlife refuge and told them to leave town. No agreement was reached. (Carissa Wolf)
  6. Florida carried out the year’s first execution, lethally injecting a man who had been convicted of killing three women. (Mark Berman)
  7. A former police lieutenant who worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology was sentenced to more than three years in prison for cooking meth at the federal government building in Gaithersburg. (Dan Morse)
  8. Georgia prosecutors will indict a cop who fatally shot an unarmed black man last March. (Wesley Lowery)
  9. Lobbyists who have sex with a Missouri lawmaker or their staff would have to disclose it to the Missouri Ethics Commission under a proposed state measure. The bill, sponsored by a Republican, defines sex between lobbyists and legislators as a gift. “As such, sexual relations would have to be included on monthly lobbyist gift disclosure forms,” the Kansas City Star notes.
  10. More than 11.3 million are now signed up for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, HHS announced. (Lena H. Sun)
  11. Up to 320,000 Time Warner Cable customers had their emails and passwords hacked. (Reuters)
  12. The Transportation Department fined United Airlines $2.7 million for delays and for breaking rules aimed at protecting disabled passengers. (AP)
  13. A truck bomb at a police training center in Libya killed at least 50. (CNN)
  14. Brett Favre, Terrell Owens and former Redskin Joe Jacoby are finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Mike Jones)
  15. At least 20 universities have banned or restricted “hoverboards” in recent weeks, saying the two-wheeled, motorized scooters are unsafe. (Salt Lake Tribune)
  16. German police said they managed to locate and return a Stradivarius violin worth millions to a young musician who forgot it on a train. (AFP)


  1. Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Chris Christie supporter, used racially-charged language to describe his state’s drug problem. “These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty – these types of guys – they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home,” the bombastic Republican said. “Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.” The Christie campaign has not commented. (Portland Press Herald)
  2. Jim Webb, who has been quiet since dropping out of the Democratic race, hired a fundraiser to help him plan an independent bid for president. (Rachel Weiner)
  3. Hank Greenberg, who built AIG into a powerhouse before its controversial government bailout during the administration of George W. Bush, donated $10 million to the Jeb Bush super PAC. (Wall Street Journal)
  4. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) announced his retirement from a safe Republican district. The 65-year-old sits on the Benghazi committee and has had NRCC leadership roles. 
  5. Ben Carson asked Iowa fifth-graders to single out the worst student in their class. He then explained he was the worst student in the class at that age. (Emma Brown)
  6. Security costs could be more than $1 million for state troopers who accompanied Chris Christie out of New Jersey last year, but no one will confirm the total nor who is picking up the tab. (WNYC)
  7. Despite Marco Rubio’s suggestions that all of his credit card statements are public, two months’ worth are not. National Journal notes they happen to cover his two biggest spending months: “Rubio’s charges between mid-October and mid-December 2006 totaled $25,481.”
  8. John Kerry pushed back on the notion the Iran deal caused the U.S. to overlook North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. (Karen DeYoung)
  9. Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, ripped into the Obama administration for its recent deportations. (John Wagner and Karoun Demirjian)
  10. Bill Clinton, campaigning in Iowa, declined to respond to Trump’s recent attacks on his infidelity. “If he wins the Republican nomination, we’ll have plenty of time to talk about it,” the former president said. (Abby Phillip)
  11. Trump declared he would withdraw $1 billion invested in Scotland if the British parliament bans him from the United Kingdom. He also told the Times’ editorial board that he’d slap a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods. (New York Times)
  12. Planned Parenthood endorsed Hillary Clinton, the first time it has backed a presidential candidate in the primary. (Abby Phillip)
  13. Leon Panetta also endorsed Clinton. (Politico)
  14. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) called on his state to legalize marijuana. (Christopher Ingraham)
  15. The Army’s two most senior special operations officers, Gen. Joseph Votel and Lt. Gen. Tony Thomas, are the Pentagon’s new picks to lead U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, respectively. (Wesley Morgan)
  16. House Democrats Frank Pallone Jr., Gene Green, Jan Schakowsky and Diana DeGette sent a letter to the National Institute of Health demanding communications between it and the NFL, including donation records. They’re responding to an ESPN report that the league backed out of a brain-injury study because it was headed by a doctor critical of the NFL. (Sarah Larimer)
  17. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) pressed President Obama to mention the Americans imprisoned in Iran during his State of the Union address. “Ali Rezaian, the brother of imprisoned Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, also has been invited to attend as the guest of Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who is Rezaian’s representative in Congress,” Carol Morello reports.
  18. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) questioned whether the Education Department overstepped its legal authority when it made sweeping changes to the way colleges investigate sexual-assault claims. (Emma Brown)


“Dietary advice gets an update,” by Peter Whoriskey: “The federal government on Thursday told Americans not to worry so much about cholesterol in their diets, that lots of coffee is fine and that skipping breakfast is no longer considered a health hazard. The recommendations were part of a new “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” the influential nutrition advice book that, updated every five years, expresses official thinking about what constitutes a nutritious meal. In what may be the most striking change, the new version drops the strict limit on dietary cholesterol, stepping back from one of most prominent public health messages since the ’60s. But there were several other notable changes. Salt limits were eased, if only slightly, for many people. Coffee won official approval for the first time, with the book saying that as many as five eight-ounce cups a day is fine. And apparently, skipping breakfast is no longer considered a health hazard.”

The latest in our “Deciders” series looks at the time Jeb Bush got rid of affirmative action in Florida –> “He got his way. Then he got a mess,” by Neely Tucker: “Onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference last year, the former Florida governor boasted that he had wiped out affirmative action with the stroke of his gubernatorial pen. But his 1999 decision to eliminate affirmative action was not nearly as clear and simple as he makes it sound today, and neither are its results. Instead, Bush was making a complicated political play under significant time pressure. Those who know him well say his actions on a divisive, high-stakes issue are emblematic of his style: hard-charging, daring, but with little patience for opposing points of view. … And perhaps just as importantly, he was attempting to block California-based activist Ward Connerly from putting an affirmative-action referendum on the November 2000 Florida ballot. That same ballot would, it was widely presumed, feature George W. Bush as the Republican nominee for president. The Connerly referendum would probably bring out droves of African American, overwhelmingly Democratic voters who would oppose the measure and most likely vote against his big brother.”

— Jeb is mobilizing the Bush network to volunteer in the early states, by Ed O’Keefe: “Relatives and hundreds of others with long ties to the Bush clan are gearing up to flood Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada in a push to get back into contention. … Alan Florez, who served as Bush’s gubernatorial traveling aide, plans to leave his home in Orman Beach, Fla., early Friday and drive with friends five and a half hours north to Charleston, S.C. They’ll meet up with George P. Bush – the candidate’s oldest son – and roughly 60 other out-of-state volunteers who plan to spend the weekend knocking on doors. ‘It’s frustrating to hear that sometimes the right story doesn’t get out,’ he said.’ Florez is part of a 600-plus member alumni network of Floridians who volunteered for Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns or worked for him as governor. ‘I’ve got a pretty fierce Jeb alumni group,’ Bush boasted in an interview this week.”

— “On the John Kasich bus: Grumbles, rumbles and doubts about Trump,” by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker: “He dismissed Trump’s campaign apparatus as an electoral Potemkin Village. ‘They did an organizational meeting in Iowa and 58 people showed up. Now, how do they get 5,000 people going to a rally and only 58 people showing up to organize? Explain that to me,’ he said. … Kasich predicted, optimistically, that Trump’s supporters eventually would flock his way. ‘They’re my peeps,’ he said. ‘People who think, ‘I get screwed, I get nothing.’ That’s where I grew up. . . . That’s my DNA. We didn’t get Steelers tickets.’ … Reaching for a piece of string cheese from the mini-fridge, Kasich grumbled that even if Trump loses an early state, ‘he’ll probably flip everybody off and go up in the polls.'”

Inspiring –> Female activist killed by the Islamic State posted this final defiant message,” by Elahe Izadi and Liz Sly: “The Islamic State summarily executed a female citizen journalist who served as a source of news and information about life in the organization’s de facto capital … News of Ruqia Hassan’s death emerged this week, but she’s believed to have been detained by the Islamic State six months ago and killed three months ago. … An activist group shared what they believe to be the 30-year-old’s last Facebook comment from July. She was in Raqqa and had received death threats, including when the Islamic State will ‘arrest me and kill me.’ ‘It’s okay because they will cut my head,’ she wrote. ‘And (to) have dignity (is) better than (to) live in humiliation’ under ISIS … In July — days before Hassan’s Facebook profile went dark — she offered a prayer as coalition aircraft came to Raqqa. ‘May God protect the civilians and take the rest,’ she wrote. Days later, she wrote that, ‘After each hardship comes good things.’”

Meanwhile, Syrians are starving to death: “Aid agencies expressed alarm about dire conditions in a besieged town west of Damascus where people have been eating cats and grass to stay alive and as many as 23 people are reported to have died of hunger. No food has arrived in the rural town of Madaya since October, and desperate residents have posted photographs on the Internet showing frail, skeletal corpses and emaciated people, including children.” (See the graphic pictures.)


–Pictures of the day:

A Trump video on Instagram features Monica Lewinsky, Anthony Weiner and Bill Cosby (who contributed to the Clinton Foundation):

“Scene from Sen. Ted Cruz’s New Hampshire headquarters: a college student in a Confederate flag T-shirt watches a silent feed of Fox News as she makes calls to voters,” via Robert Costa:

“Iowa Style Guide — plaid on plaid on plaid,” writes Hogan Gidley, who was with Huckabee as he finished his tour of all 99 counties in Iowa yesterday:

–Tweets of the day:

House Republicans packed in for a signing ceremony for the Obamacare repeal measure. It’s a helpful photo opp back home, though the president will veto the measure:

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) celebrated 100 years of the National Park Service:

This looks pretty cool:

–Instagrams of the day:

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the richest member of the Senate because he co-founded Nextel, gets his geek on at the Consumer Electronics Show:


— Wall Street Journal, “Why the Redskins’ players are so frugal,” by Kevin Clark: “The average salary for NFL players is roughly $2 million this season, but nobody seems to have told that to the Redskins. Washington … may be the most frugal team in the league. Two-time pro bowl running back Alfred Morris, who makes a base salary of $1.5 million this year, has taken to riding a bike to work and leaving it in his reserved parking space. On days when it’s too cold or otherwise inconvenient to cycle to the facility, Morris switches to a splashier ride: a 1991 Mazda 626, which he drove up from Florida as a rookie in 2012. He calls it his Bentley. Pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan signed a five-year, $57.5 million contract earlier this year. But he still shares his apartment in suburban Virginia with a roommate … Kirk Cousins said his thriftiness came easily. He worked a minimum-wage job while at Michigan State, picking up golf balls at a driving range, and was used to saving money. Knowing all about the short careers of NFL players, Cousins decided to spend as little as possible.”

— Politico, “Democrats mine Pentagon files for dirt on rivals,” by Austin Wright: “The Democratic Party, eager to dig up damaging material on the GOP before this year’s elections, is flooding the Pentagon with public records requests on a host of White House hopefuls and vulnerable Republican senators … The requests, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, mainly seek correspondence between the candidates and Pentagon officials … They include demands for letters in which Rubio expressed concerns in 2011 about the Pentagon’s ‘purchasing practice’ relating to a Miami-based company, as well as a 2013 letter from the Florida senator that the logs describe as a ‘request for assistance to sell beverage to U.S. armed forces.'”

— The Atlantic looks at the push for a liberal tea party movement –> “The pugnacious, relentless progressive party that wants to remake America,” by Molly Ball: “The Working Families Party’s agenda—frankly redistributionist and devoted to social equality—targets a class of Democratic elected officials who, in the view of many liberals, seem to listen more to their moneyed donors than to the left-wing rank and file. Aggressive, tactical, and dedicated to winning, the WFP would like to force Democrats—and the country—to become more liberal by mobilizing the party base, changing the terms of the debate, and taking out centrist incumbents in primaries. If there’s ever been a moment for this, it is now. Four years after Occupy Wall Street, with the socialist Sanders pushing Clinton leftward, liberal frustration with national politics has reached a boiling point. Enter the WFP: Since its founding nearly two decades ago, it’s become an influential fixture of Democratic politics in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Now, the party is going national. By mid-2016, the WFP plans to be in 11 states, with more on the horizon.”


A deli owner in Vermont made a sandwich called “The Donald” mocking Trump. From the Washington Examiner: “Mike Williams, the owner of Burlington’s Kountry Kart Deli, is advertising ‘The Donald,’ a special sandwich that mocks the billionaire … A sign for the sandwich … describes the $20.16 sub as ‘bologna on white bread.’ Filled with B.S. (Bacon Slices) and topped with white American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and dressed with deli mustard (don’t worry Donald, there will be no spicy mustard here – we built a wall around it),’ the sign teases.”


The widow of “American sniper” Chris Kyle argues that background checks to stop the mentally ill from getting guns won’t work. From her CNN op-ed: “Can we fix these people? Can we legislate out of them the desire to kill? … By the very nature of these crimes, we know that evildoers don’t care about the laws. After all, murder is against the law, and they are choosing to ignore the law from the moment they plan to harm people. Beyond that, who among us has the right to tell me I will murder someone because I have a gun? And who can tell me that I can only defend and protect myself in a way they feel comfortable with?”


–What’s happening today on the campaign trail:

  • Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe makes several stops in Iowa to campaign for Hillary Clinton.
  • Ted Cruz, continuing his Iowa bus tour, stops in Mason City, Manly, Osage, Charles City, Cresco and Decorah.
  • Bernie Sanders will speak in Cedar Rapids, Waverly and Toledo.
  • Marco Rubio will hold a town hall at 11 a.m. in Concord, N.H., before flying to Columbia, S.C., for a stop with Jason Chaffetz.
  • Rand Paul visits Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Marion, North Liberty and Davenport, Iowa.
  • Martin O’Malley speaks at leadership conferences in Davenport and Dubuque.
  • Rick Santorum will appear at a private house party in Council Bluffs.
  • John Kasich holds town halls in Stratham, Hampton, Seabrook and Exeter, N.H.
  • Carly Fiorina, also in New Hampshire, speaks in New London, Hillsborough and Amherst.

–On the Hill: The Rules Committee will debate H.R. 1927, which makes changes to the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015.

–At the White House:

  • President Obama will hold a conference call in the afternoon with “grassroots supporters” to discuss decreasing gun violence.
  • Vice President Biden is in Wilmington, Del., and will not make any public appearances.

Much of the national security leadership of the Obama administration is flying to California today to seek tech firms’ help in figuring out how to thwart terrorists who use the Internet to recruit and radicalize people and to plan attacks, Ellen Nakashima reports. “Among those set to attend a meeting Friday with Silicon Valley top executives are Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, FBI Director James B. Comey, Obama counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers and Deputy Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken.”


California Gov. Jerry Brown said that he doesn’t want to comment about potential ballot propositions. Guns and marijuana are two topics likely to be considered by initiative this November. “All I would say is, ‘Don’t smoke marijuana when you’re using your gun,’” Brown said. (San Jose Mercury News)


“Yuck, drizzle is possible through mid-morning,” the Capital Weather Gang forecasts. “Not to mention it looks like another overcast day. Patchy light rain or sprinkles may develop by mid-to-late afternoon from southwest to northeast (30% chance of measurable precipitation) as light easterly breezes keep us socked-in with moist air off of the ocean and Bay. High temperatures stay stuck in the low-to-mid 40s unless we muster some sunshine.”

–The Capitals beat the New York Islanders 4-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants to cut $400 million in taxes over the next five years. He also called for changing the state’s budget law to automatically reduce mandated spending increases if revenues decline. (Josh Hicks)


Watch Conan O’Brien spoof Trump’s first TV ad (Mexico features prominently):

Watch Seth Myers “moderate” a “Democratic debate:”

See Mississippi Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo introduce a resolution to censure President Obama because of his “executive overreach”:

Watch this husband-and-wife team #fail during American Idol auditions:

And watch this dog lead his owner to a missing woman: