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Essential Politics: Trump puts the squeeze on vulnerable Republicans

I’m Christina Bellantoni. Today’s Essential Politics begins with a look at states you’re going to be hearing a lot more about over the next 82 days.

Some are familiar swing territory: Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire. Others are where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s fate will be determined: Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Traditional campaigns usually find the person at the top of the ticket boosting the candidates at the bottom, but this is no traditional campaign, and Donald Trump has turned coattails into anchors. And if those Republicans lose, the GOP’s 54-46 hold on the U.S. Senate will vanish.

"These guys know they’re standing on the train tracks," Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told Lisa Mascaro. "They just don’t know if they can jump in time."

Mascaro reported from New Hampshire with a look at New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, one of those vulnerable Republicans with an artful position on Trump. She says she is voting for the candidate, but not endorsing him, one of many campaign contortions we’ve been tracking on our endorsement spectrum interactive.

BUT … THE EMAILS

While Trump continues to falter in some of these swing states, a major question mark still remains for Hillary Clinton. Congressional staff on Tuesday were poring over classified documents the FBI gave Congress related to its investigation of Clinton's emails. Republican lawmakers are continuing to probe why prosecutors chose not to pursue a case against her.

In a letter to the committee looking into the matter, the FBI said because of the intense interest in Clinton's emails, it wanted to again explain Director James Comey's rationale for declining to recommend prosecution. "The FBI did find evidence that Secretary Clinton and her colleagues were extremely careless in their handling of certain, very sensitive, highly classified information," wrote Jason V. Herring, acting assistant director. "The director did not equate 'extreme carelessness' with the legal standard of 'gross negligence' that is required by the statute."

In a related development, Al Baldasaro, co-chairman of Trump's national veterans coalition, stood by his call for Clinton to be shot in a firing squad for treason.

Get the latest from the campaign trail on Trail Guide and follow @latimespolitics. Check our daily USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll at the top of the politics page.

A CAP AND TRADE BATTLE

California’s cap-and-trade program is the centerpiece of the state’s climate change policy, meant to use the markets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It has also generated quite a bit of cash — more than $4 billion — in the process. That money is supposed to go to environmentally friendly programs, but for two years, Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers have been unable to agree on how that money should be spent. The funds have been tied up in the political maneuvering around recent climate legislation, but as Melanie Mason reports from Shasta County, the standstill has real-life repercussions throughout the state.

Meantime, a different portion of cap and trade dollars was handed out on Tuesday: some $391 million for public transit projects across California, including boosts to Los Angeles’ subway system and a streetcar system in Orange County.

OIL LOBBYIST GHOSTWRITES LETTER TO AUDIT CLIMATE AGENCY

Earlier this month, Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) sent a letter to audit the state’s main climate change agency. It turns out, though, that a lobbyist for the oil industry drafted the request, Liam Dillon reports. A draft of the letter lists oil companies’ main lobbyist, Eloy Garcia, as the author. Gray’s chief of staff confirmed Garcia wrote the letter, and said it’s not unusual for outside groups to draft requests on behalf of lawmakers because they have policy expertise.

As we continue to track the negotiations on this issue and others in the final days of the session, keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed for the very latest from Sacramento.

COULD GERRYMANDERING BECOME A THING OF THE PAST?

David Savage details how the Supreme Court may take a new look at the old question of whether extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, denying voters an equal chance to have their voices heard. Lawyers for North Carolina and Wisconsin are challenging GOP-drawn electoral maps that ensure Republicans win a majority of seats in Congress or the statehouse, even when a majority of voters statewide lean in favor of Democrats. And they are reasonably confident the justices will take up one or both of the cases in the term ahead.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

Trump is shaking up his campaign again, bringing in Breitbart News' Stephen Bannon as CEO and promoting pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager.

Evan McMullin, the former CIA counter-terrorism officer who last week launched a late independent campaign for the presidency, did not meet California's deadline to submit nomination papers signed by 178,039 registered voters.

— Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has weighed in on California’s U.S. Senate race, throwing a New York City fundraiser for state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.

— A measure to exempt diapers from sales tax is now headed to Brown’s desk.

— Brown also will decide if he should sign a measure that would allow felons serving time in county jails to be able to vote in California elections.

— California lawmakers and faith leaders embarked upon a 24-hour fast in support of a bill that would phase in overtime pay for farm workers over four years starting in 2019.

— The California Senate has approved legislation that would allow pot shops to pay state taxes with cash given they aren’t allowed to hold bank accounts.

— Some of President Obama’s longest serving aides, still on the job and self-described "lifers," see the finish line just ahead.

— Clinton announced members of her transition team, a group of people who would help her name Cabinet and agency heads should she win the presidency.

— Experts say it’s unclear how Trump’s "extreme vetting" proposals would differ from current U.S. immigration policy — or how they could help prevent terrorist attacks.

Meet the doctor who biked across the country to talk to Americans about Obamacare.

— I’ll be a panelist Friday morning at USC Dornsife’s "Blazing the Trail – Lessons from Women Leaders" event. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. The free event honors Tracy Hernandez of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, Lindsey Horvath of the West Hollywood City Council and retired Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke. The other panelists are Kathryn Barger, chief deputy supervisor in the office of Supervisor Michael Antonovich; Ana Guerrero, chief of staff to Mayor Eric Garcetti; Los Angeles County CEO Sachi Hamai; Close the Gap founder Mary Hughes; former West Hollywood council member Abbe Land; Councilwoman Nury Martinez; Michele Siqueiros of the Campaign for College Opportunity; and Vice President of SoCalGas Sharon Tomkins.

— What do you think of Hillary Clinton? We want to hear from you.

— Who will win the November election? Give our Electoral College map a spin.

LOGISTICS

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