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Essential Politics: Presidential debate could be fight night or final knockout

More and more, Donald Trump’s own supporters no longer think he can win. What does that portend for his final face-off with Hillary Clinton in Las Vegas tonight?

I’m Christina Bellantoni. Welcome to a special debate edition of Essential Politics.

As David Lauter explains crunching the data, even Trump’s staunchest backers in our daily USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll are increasingly seeing a victory for the Republican nominee as out of reach.

For what it’s worth, a group of national and international astrologers has predicted that a Clinton win is in the stars. And to make matters worse for Trump, a big Irish bookmaker announced Tuesday it won’t take any more bets on the presidential race and will start paying out gamblers who chose Clinton. (Four years ago, it closed the books two days before the election.)

But it isn’t over, and you can expect both Clinton and Trump to bring their all to the debate. Consider the psychology behind their choice of guests.

Trump will bring Patricia Smith, whose son Sean was killed in the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton has invited Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, a Republican campaigning against Trump, and Mark Cuban, a Trump antagonist whose presence at the first presidential debate touched off the war of the guests this year.

Cathleen Decker gives her take on what Trump needs to do tonight: shift attention to Clinton. His rival Clinton enters the third and final presidential debate with a persistent lead of at least middling single digits in almost all national polls and a strong hold on states Trump needs to win, but she faces challenges of her own, especially in light of the ongoing Wikileaks hacks.

The Times will offer full coverage of the big event, from liveblogging on Trail Guide to analysis via @latimespolitics.

Decker and Lauter will join Doyle McManus tonight for their final debate scorecard, judging the nominees round-by-round.

If you like your analysis in person, come watch the debate with us tonight at the Ace Hotel. I’ll be joined by John Myers and Seema Mehta at the event, co-hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway of the West Wing Weekly podcast. There’s still time to RSVP here to our Los Angeles Times Debate Watch Party. Hope to see you there.

THE PRESIDENT STEPS IT UP

President Obama, again inserting himself into the campaign to succeed him, scolded Trump on Tuesday for his repeated allegations that the election is “rigged” and told the Republican nominee to “stop whining.”

“If you start whining before the game’s even over, if whenever things are going badly for you and you lose, you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job,” Obama said, his voice cracking with amusement as he mocked the GOP nominee.

At the same time, Obama cut a rare ad in a California House race, endorsing first-time candidate Democrat Bryan Caforio in his quest to oust freshman Rep. Steve Knight in the 25th Congressional District. Javier Panzar reports that the television ad is a signal Democrats are taking seriously their attempts to win back the House.

News also came Tuesday that House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has said he would no longer defend his party’s nominee and instead focus on retaining congressional majorities, is headed to California next week to raise money and campaign with House candidates.

And a pro-Hillary Clinton Super PAC is feeling so confident about the Democratic nominee’s chances that it is now targeting vulnerable GOP senators.

WHY THIS AIDS ORGANIZATION IS FUNDING TWO BALLOT MEASURES

For the last 30 years, Michael Weinstein has built up his AIDS Healthcare Foundation from a 25-bed Elysian Park hospice to a booming $1.2-billion nonprofit that manages hundreds of clinics and pharmacies worldwide.

Christine Mai-Duc and Panzar report that now he’s helping transform the organization into a major player in statewide politics, backing two ballot measures in California and setting his sights on a nationwide movement to lower prescription drug prices. But Weinstein, who has been called a “bully” and a “thug” for his brash tactics, has stirred plenty of controversy, particularly within the HIV advocacy community.

JAY Z HAS HIS SAY

Rapper Jay Z has weighed in to support Proposition 64 fully legalizing marijuana in California. He uses a YouTube video to call the war on drugs “an epic fail” and decry how it has filled prisons with young African American and Latino men.

Keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed for the latest, and check out The Times’ ballot box guide to California’s 17 propositions.

WHY THE JANITORS ARE HEADING TO NEVADA

More than 150 SEIU members traveled to Las Vegas last weekend for a whirlwind trip to knock on doors and encourage Nevadans to vote for Democrats. This weekend they’ll do it again.

Some workers said they went because they feel an urgency to keep Trump out of the White House, others because they believe in Clinton.

Sarah Wire followed a bus full of janitors from when they left Los Angeles at 3 a.m. Saturday to when they returned at 11 p.m. Sunday, just in time for them to make the late shift.

WHAT’S IN YOUR MAILBOX?

Have you received a barrage of campaign mailers this election season? Are you bombarded with information about local races and propositions? We want to hear from you.

Send images of campaign mailers and door-hangers, mp3 recordings of robo calls or links to web ads to politics@latimes.com. Include your name, city, state and age, and tell us about the material you’re sharing. Your submissions may be featured on our site.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

— Vista Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who’s facing his toughest reelection challenge ever, this week sent out a campaign mailer praising Obama. This is the same Republican congressman who once called Obama one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.

— Sophia Bollag reports on the candidates for California’s 7th Congressional District, Rep. Ami Bera and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, squabbling over scandals that have plagued each of their campaigns during a debate Tuesday night.

— The Trump and Clinton campaigns were all over Los Angeles’ final naturalization ceremony before the election, with each side attempting to register the new citizens as voters.

— A Republican super PAC is using images from the San Bernardino attack in a new ad targeting Democratic candidate Michael Eggman in the 10th Congressional District.

— L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti was on Clinton’s vice presidential contenders list, according to WikiLeaks emails.

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino) became the first Californian to be named to the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen in the States” list of the most “anti-environment” state-level candidates nationwide. Brown’s environmental record has become a major issue in her reelection fight against Democrat Eloise Reyes.

— Democrat Ro Khanna launched his first TV ads in his repeat challenge against eight-term Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose). The ads highlight Honda’s ethics investigation and slam the Democrat for being “around too long.” The ads come a week after Honda released an ad featuring an actor imitating Khanna and drinking champagne and taking phone calls in the back of a limousine.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) got married over the weekend.

— Director Michael Moore will release a new film he’s kept secret, “Michael Moore in TrumpLand,” in Los Angeles and New York on Wednesday.

Melania Trump’s defense of her husband brings to mind another political spouse’s words as she grappled with allegations of her spouse’s sexual impropriety: Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

— The woman Trump branded the “ugly Kardashianstruck back.

Mike Pence called the firebombing in North Carolina “political terrorism.”

— Reminder to Californians: You’ve got until Monday to register to vote.

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

LOGISTICS

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