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Essential Politics: California's hottest congressional races, ranked

This time next year, the mad scramble for control of the U.S. House of Representatives in all likelihood will dominate political conversation.

Loyal Essential Politics readers know we’ve been focused on California’s 2018 congressional races since the ballots were certified on the 2016 elections, and today we’re offering you an easy way to keep track of the contests that matter.

Our congressional tracker, shown first to subscribers of this newsletter, details the districts that we’ll be talking about in the months to come. For Democrats to win control of the House next fall, they have to flip at least a handful of these seats.

Democrats are attempting to take advantage of anti-Trump resistance movements and demographic change to further dominate the Golden State. They see opportunity in Orange County, which backed a Democrat for president for the first time in 80 years last fall. Several Republicans there haven’t faced tough races in a long time, if ever, making them vulnerable to an upset.

Republicans say they will play offense too. The party will spend money on a handful of races as an insurance policy against possible losses elsewhere. There will be millions spent in the state, one of the most expensive places to run a campaign.

The Times’ California politics editors have ranked the hottest races by the intensity of the fight the member of Congress looks to face. No. 1: Rep. Darrell Issa. See the rest.

We’ll be updating our rankings throughout the cycle, and subscribers to Essential Politics will be the first to learn what’s changed.

And you can always keep up with these races in the moment via the Essential Politics news feed on California politics.

‘SANCTUARY STATE’ AGREEMENT HEADS TO A VOTE

In tough negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate leader Kevin de León agreed Monday to amend a "sanctuary state" bill that would limit the role of state or local law enforcement agencies in holding and questioning immigrants in the country illegally.

The new version exempts state prisons and includes other changes to how law enforcement agencies will be affected. Immigrant advocates said the bill still sends an important message of support to immigrant communities living in fear under the Trump administration. At least one opposing law enforcement association switched its position to neutral, and the legislation now has the support of Speaker Anthony Rendon in the Assembly, where the bill faces its next hurdle.

As those negotiations were wrapping, California on Monday sued the Trump administration, challenging as unconstitutional the president’s plan to rescind DACA.

NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND

Speaking of which, congressional Democrats are trying to force a vote on the Dream Act, using a procedural maneuver or at least provide a show of strength that leaves Republican leaders few options but to call one.

We’ve got the top talkers in Hillary Clinton’s new book, including the former secretary of State saying that using a private email server was "dumb."

So far, it’s been adoring crowds for Clinton, but lackluster reviews.

Lots of people are getting on board the Medicare-for-all bandwagon, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi isn’t one of them.

Steve Bannon is coming to Berkeley.

Get the latest about what’s happening in the nation’s capital on Essential Washington.

VILLARAIGOSA ADMITS HIS TIME MIGHT HAVE PASSED

Antonio Villaraigosa is craving one more act in public life. But as the former L.A. mayor travels the state running for governor, he knows better than anyone that the odds are stacked against him. In the latest in our series of profiles of the top gubernatorial candidates, Villaraigosa suggests as much to Michael Finnegan. Still, he vows to outwork his rivals and return, if he can, to center stage in California politics.

Don’t miss Finnegan’s profiles of Treasurer John Chiang and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

DON’T TOKE AND DRIVE

With state-licensed marijuana sales months away, Brown signed a bill that prohibits smoking or consuming cannabis while driving or riding in a vehicle in California. The new law makes a violation punishable with a $70 fine.

LEGISLATIVE ACTION ROUNDUP

With just a few days left in the legislative session, lawmakers have sealed the fate of a number of measures. One major pending issue is housing, as several bills have yet to come up for a vote. Legislators made some last-minute changes in trying to garner support for a package.

Here’s a quick look at the rest.

-- A bill to let some counties and cities in California establish “safe injection sites” for drug users stumbled in the state Senate.

-- Iraqi and Afghan refugees could soon pay resident student tuition at California community colleges.

-- A California Assembly bill to protect tenants from deportation heads to Brown.

-- Lawmakers blocked an effort to allow 17-year-olds to vote in California elections.

-- A bill to provide free menstrual products in schools with low-income students headed to the governor’s desk.

-- Lawmakers signed off on a bill to give California teachers paid pregnancy leave.

-- Brown also has on his desk a measure that would limit mandatory sentences for some drug charges.

-- State lawmakers passed a bill making it easier for Uber and Lyft drivers to get permits.

-- State lawmakers on Monday gave final legislative approval to a bill that would reduce from a felony to a misdemeanor the crime of knowingly exposing a sexual partner to HIV without disclosing the infection.

-- A measure that would expand a firearms ban on school campuses in California won final legislative approval and was sent to Brown, a rifle owner who has been skeptical about some gun control measures.

-- A measure aimed at slowing the revolving door of California legislators becoming lobbyists is headed to Brown’s desk. Depending on when they step down, they could be banned for as long as three years under the new rule — with no lobbying allowed during the two-year session after they were elected, and one year after that session.

TRACKING THE MONEY RACE

Vice President Pence canceled a California fundraising trip to boost GOP congressional candidates scheduled for later this week because of hurricane recovery efforts, Seema Mehta reports. The trip has been rescheduled for October.

Rep. Keith Ellison, the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, is heading to Orange County -- a linchpin of the party’s efforts to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives -- when he headlines the county party’s largest annual fundraiser later this month.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- Newsom hired a veteran Democratic strategist as his campaign manager.

-- A court ordered Issa to pay his 2016 opponent Doug Applegate $45,000 after a failed defamation lawsuit.

-- Rep. Mimi Walters, No. 7 on our list, has a new Democratic challenger: ice cream shop owner and former healthcare administrator Greg Ramsay.

LOGISTICS

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