We've reached the unofficial, legit, no-bones-about-it start of the campaign season. Donald Trump over the weekend told congregants in a black church in Detroit, "I'm here today to learn," and reporters who travel to cover Hillary Clinton have finally joined the candidate on a campaign plane.
Welcome to Essential Politics, your guide to what's to come over the next 62 days and beyond. I'm Christina Bellantoni, and we begin with a trio of stories looking at the states that are going to matter most on Nov. 8.
A TALE OF THREE STATES
Cathleen Decker details how Trump and Clinton supporters are seldom near each other in much of the country. The Republican dominates rural, white America; the Democrat overwhelmingly wins the cities with their higher minority populations. But in the suburbs north and west of Philadelphia, the two sides collide and will be major factors in who wins the general election.
Perhaps no swing state is as significant as Ohio, where Decker details a Labor Day push from each candidate in the Buckeye State that exemplified their strategies. Much as Clinton might prefer to spend more time detailing policy positions and crafting a more positive image for herself, the swiftest route to the presidency may be in making the election a referendum on Trump, who many voters believe does not have the background or temperament to serve as president, she writes.
Finally, Mark Z. Barabak takes readers to Georgia with a vivid look. Until this summer, a black voter in Atlanta didn't matter much in the race for president, he writes. Georgia was as Republican red as its famous clay soil, having backed the GOP nominee in seven of the last eight presidential contests, including the last five in a row.
But now, Clinton is considering a serious run at Georgia's 16 electoral votes. That's a measure of Trump's weakness and of long-term shifts in the politics of states along the southeastern coast. It's an effort that carries little risk and long-term benefits that could be substantial.
Clinton is returning to California for a series of fundraisers.
She starts in San Francisco on Sept. 12 with a concert at the Masonic starring k.d. lang and Lizz Wright. Tickets start at $250 and go up to $50,000 for "chairs" who give that much or raise $100,000 and can attend a reception with "exclusive performance by special guest" and a "commemorative keepsake."
A Beverly Hills lunch on Sept. 13 featuring Lionel Richie costs a $5,000 donation at the low end and goes up to raising $50,000 to get preferred seating and a photo with the candidate.
Later that night, at the Beverly Hills home of Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller, anyone giving $100,000 per couple can attend an "Intimate Dinner with Hillary." Other chairs listed on an invitation include Jane and Michael Eisner, Karen and Russell Goldsmith and Edgar Sargsyan.
"All levels will reach capacity quickly," one fundraiser wrote in an email, obtained by The Times, to potential donors.
Vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine will raise money at a Latinos for Hillary event at actress Eva Longoria's home in Los Angeles on Sept. 19. Tickets range from $10,000 to $100,000.
Kaine also will appear at an afternoon "conversation" Sept. 20. Donation suggestions range from a $2,700 "champion" to being a $27,000 co-host who gets a reception with the Virginian. It is hosted by Jay Sures, head of United Talent Agency.
The Times also obtained an invitation to an event Friday evening featuring top Clinton aide Capricia Marshall, the former U.S. Chief of Protocol. The event is at the home of Victoria Jackson and is co-hosted by Gloria Steinem. Donations start at $1,000 per person.
THE INSIDE STORY OF CALIFORNIA'S CLIMATE BATTLE
When the last month of California's legislative session began, new steps for fighting climate change appeared to be dead in the water. Weeks later, they were approved by lawmakers and poised to become law.
Chris Megerian and Melanie Mason detail the inside story of how the proposals went from a political longshot to a surprise victory, and how an insurgent campaign reframed the volatile debate over climate change in California. Gov. Jerry Brown has promised to sign the legislation, which would cement the state's policies for fighting global warming for years to come.
The Times has been covering the issue in-depth for two years. Click here for full coverage, including profiles of major players, analysis of key policy questions and details on California's role in the global debate.
ISSA'S CHOICE FOR SENATE
Vista Republican Rep. Darrell Issa has relished the role as congressional Republicans' arch nemesis of the Obama administration, but he is laying down his partisan sword when it comes to California's U.S. Senate race. Phil Willon reports that Issa said he is backing Rep. Loretta Sanchez because, despite the differences on most issues facing this nation, the Orange County Democrat has a depth of expertise on the military and world affairs that is critical for national security. Last week, the two joined a bipartisan congressional delegation that toured military installations and defense contractors in San Diego. The visit attracted ample local news coverage, a major bonus for Sanchez and Issa, both of whom face tough elections in November.
VIETNAMESE COMMUNITY IN AN UNUSUAL PLACE
Vietnamese Americans in Orange County's 46th Congressional District have historically been a formidable ethnic voting bloc that can influence elections, particularly when a Vietnamese candidate is running. But in this year's race to replace Sanchez, some Vietnamese voters are reconsidering whether to support Bao Nguyen, the 36-year-old gay mayor of Garden Grove who endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.
Nguyen, who was born in a Thai refugee camp and came to the United States as an infant, is facing off against Lou Correa, a Latino former state senator who bills himself as a politically moderate candidate with decades of experience.
When Nguyen and Correa, both Democrats, face off in November, it will be a test of how far the loyalties of this political group can stretch.
A DOZEN CONGRESSIONAL RACES
We're just nine weeks out from election day, and Congressional races are starting to heat up. Strong incumbents, and some beneficially drawn districts, mean only a handful of seats are competitive. The presidential race might be the most decisive factor in whether those seats flip parties.
In California's 17th District and 25th District, incumbents are in for the fight of their political careers.
Sarah Wire has the details on the 12 races we'll be keeping an eye on most closely.
Watch our Essential Politics news feed for the latest from California's campaign trail.
THE OVERHAUL OF THE STATE'S ENERGY REGULATOR STALLS
Perhaps the most surprising failure at the Capitol this year was a bid to make major changes at the state's energy regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission. Back in June, Brown and key lawmakers had announced an overhaul of the agency in response to years of allegations that regulators were too close with industry.
But the largest bill in the package sputtered late Wednesday, not even getting a floor vote, Liam Dillon reports. Details between major players had yet to be ironed out, and everyone ran out of time.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), who authored the failed plan, is now floating a ballot measure to address the issue.
A BID TO EXPAND L.A.'S AIR QUALITY BOARD FAILS
A push from State Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) to add state appointees to Los Angeles' powerful air quality board was one of the big measures that failed late Wednesday night at the end of the legislative session.
De León argued the measure was needed to diversify the board, but Tony Barboza and Dillon report that Republicans and members in a bloc of business-aligned Democrats remained unconvinced the measure was necessary. De León introduced the legislation after GOP elected officials gained a majority on the board earlier this year, and critics of the plan contended it was a power grab.
LAWMAKERS CALL FOR OUSTER OF JUDGE IN STANFORD RAPE CASE
California state and federal lawmakers on Friday called on voters to recall Santa Clara Judge Aaron Persky, who spurred international outrage in June when he sentenced former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for the sexual assault of an unconscious woman.
The Recall Persky Campaign, which organized a rally outside the Santa Clara jail on the day of Brock's early release, emerged from grassroots efforts to bring attention to sexual violence and has evolved into a focused campaign with a team of veteran political consultants and supporters of all levels of government.
Sanchez, who asked the governor to sign a bill to impose mandatory minimum sentences on some sexual assault perpetrators, was among the speakers.
PODCAST: A LEGISLATIVE LOOK-BACK
With lawmakers now back at home and their work in Sacramento finished, what will stand out as the real hits and misses of the two-year session? On this week's California Politics Podcast, John Myers leads a discussion of some of the highlights -- and lowlights -- of the legislative deliberations.
-- How well do you remember what happened last week in the world of politics? Take our quiz to find out.
-- The California Coastal Commission's vote on the Newport Banning Ranch project Wednesday won't just determine the fate of one of the biggest coastal developments in years, it will be a test for a panel mired in controversy, Bettina Boxall writes.
-- George Skelton's assessment of the legislative session: The middle class got left behind.
-- Maura Dolan evaluates the practicality of a measure Brown is considering to lift the statute of limitations for reporting rape in California.
-- Lawmakers broke into gospel song in tribute to former Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins as last week's legislative session came to a close in Sacramento.
-- Sen. Barbara Boxer is donating her archives to UC Berkeley and will kick off a university lecture series named for her next year.
-- Attending a major summit in Asia, President Obama said he is confident his Trans-Pacific trade deal will become reality.
-- Clinton told federal agents and prosecutors she did not recall receiving any emails that were too secretive to be handled by her private computer server and did not believe any of her devices had been hacked or compromised, according to an FBI summary of a three-hour interview with agents and prosecutors released Friday.
-- Members of the House and Senate who served in the military routinely violate a Defense Department ethics policy that regulates how they can use their experience in uniform when campaigning for office, the San Diego Union Tribune reports. Often they fail to run a required disclaimer that says they are not endorsed by the armed forces. A review of incumbent reservists and veterans in both chambers of Congress shows that 58 of the 81 who served appear in a uniform or mention their military experience on their campaign websites or in campaign mailers. Only 13 of the 58 include the disclaimer.
-- We profile Peter Navarro, an outspoken member of Trump's economic advisory team and colorful California academic who once was a fan of Clinton.
-- Sanders hit the campaign trail for Clinton in New Hampshire.
-- Henry Kissinger and George Shultz will stay out of the election this year.
-- Who will win the November election? Give our Electoral College map a spin.