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Democrats scramble to avoid top-two shutouts that could prevent them from flipping the House

Democrats scramble to avoid top-two shutouts that could prevent them from flipping the House
Essential Politics (LAT)

Surely subscribers to this newsletter are engaged, registered to vote and planning to participate in the next election.

But just in case, consider this line in John Myers' Sunday Political Road Map column:

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No gubernatorial primary has attracted even 35% of registered voters since 2002.

Put another way, it's been 38 years since a majority of California's electorate showed up for a non-presidential primary.

Even though the state is close to having a historic 20 million registered voters, Myers predicts that only about 6 million votes will be cast in next month's election — the kind of apathy made even more remarkable by the fact that so many ballots are now sent through the mail. Millions of them may just sit on kitchen tables, never to be mailed in.

Thanks to the top-two primary, the June 5 election could effectively decide California's next governor. And as we outline in more detail below, it will set the direction for crucial U.S. House races that this fall will determine who controls Congress.

The deadline to register to vote is May 21. Tell your friends.

NEW TOP-TWO TACTICS

In the race to capture Republican-held congressional seats, Democrats are increasingly worried they could be locked out of key contests. So the party has deployed a new strategy in hopes of avoiding that worse-case scenario: attacking lower-polling Republicans.

With tensions running high among Democratic activists, party leaders have been warned that increasing their support for one candidate or attacking other Democrats could backfire. Attacking two Republicans was seen as an elegant solution that could lead to GOP voters splitting — and allowing a Democrat to make it through.

And with another round of polling suggesting support for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is eroding and GOP candidate Scott Baugh's chances of making it a two-Republican runoff in the 48th Congressional District are increasing, Democrats boosted one of their own by naming Harley Rouda to their "Red to Blue" program.

For more on the midterms, Christine Mai-Duc joined Politico's Carla Marinucci and Capital Public Radio's Ben Bradford for their new podcast on congressional races in California. You can listen to the latest episode here.

THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

California's six major candidates running for governor all are pledging a big boost in housing production as a way to tackle the state's affordability problems.

Liam Dillon dug into their plans. Here's what he found: Five of the six want to see developers build at a rate not seen in at least three decades. And the sixth wants an unprecedented increase in new government-subsidized homes for low- and moderate-income residents.

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A new attack ad by state Treasurer John Chiang accuses Democratic rival Antonio Villaraigosa of being a "failure" as mayor of Los Angeles and nearly driving the city into bankruptcy. The ad comes as Chiang, who has been lagging in the polls, scrambles to overtake Villaraigosa in the race for the second spot behind front-runner Gavin Newsom.

As Phil Willon writes in a fact check, while Villaraigosa certainly made some fiscal mistakes as mayor, blaming him for L.A.'s financial woes during the greatest economic downtown since the Great Depression is misleading.

Newsom and Villaraigosa were on the campaign trail in Los Angeles on Saturday, rallying their faithful and outlining what they would do to fix California's problems.

This week's California Politics Podcast sorts through who scored, and missed, in Tuesday's debate among candidates for governor.

A reminder: You can keep up with all of these races in the moment via our Essential Politics news feed on California politics.

THE BUDGET DEBATE BEGINS IN SACRAMENTO

Lawmakers at the state Capitol have 32 days to send Gov. Jerry Brown a final budget for the new fiscal year. And they now know where Brown stands in the wake of an extraordinary tax windfall.

Brown released a $199-billion spending plan Friday, one that spends a portion of that extra cash on the state's homelessness crisis. He also embraced a $2-billion bond proposal to help fund homeless housing developments, which means there could be as many as five housing measures on the November ballot.

The governor's budget includes, too, close to $100 million in new funding to help combat wildfires.

Brown also proposed Friday to create five teams in the state attorney general's office to investigate California's black market for marijuana after firms that received state licenses complained they are being undercut by the illicit growers and sellers.

The budget also stashes away a tax windfall for future economic hard times into what will be the largest savings account for the state ever. George Skelton calls the rainy day fund a parting gift for Brown's successor.

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ELECTION SEASON PUSH FOR IMMIGRATION VOTE

A bipartisan group of House members led by California Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from Turlock, are working to force a vote on four immigration bills over the objections of GOP leadership. Their petition got 17 of the 25 GOP backers it needs to move forward, and Sarah D. Wire has the story on how GOP leaders are rushing to stop it before they are forced to hold the votes.

It's rare for a Republican lawmaker to attempt to circumvent the wishes of a House speaker from his or her own party. Getting the backing of enough colleagues to actually take advantage of the arcane maneuver is almost unheard of.

THE COHEN CONNECTION

Before the presidential election, Michael Cohen created Essential Consultants LLC to pay hush money to the porn star known as Stormy Daniels. But after Donald Trump won, Cohen tried to use the company to cash in on his longtime client's ascent to the Oval Office. New revelations show how major corporations paid millions of dollars to Cohen in hopes of getting a leg up with the new administration.

Trying to follow the Cohen payments that lead to Russia? It's complicated. This graphic will help.

There was also a twist in Cohen's criminal case. A New York lawyer is concerned that some of the documents seized by federal agents could involve women who accused Eric Schneiderman, the New York state attorney general who just resigned, of abuse. The new court filing means Cohen knew about the allegations years ago when he was trying to help Trump fend off Schneiderman's lawsuit against Trump University, which was eventually settled for $25 million after the election.

Get the latest about what's happening with the investigation on Essential Washington.

NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND

The Supreme Court has opened the door for legalized sports betting nationwide.

-- There's another Democratic 'yes' vote for Gina Haspel to lead the CIA, but California's two senators are both opposed.

-- If Democrats win control of Congress, President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner almost certainly will face a more direct danger — congressional investigations into potential conflicts of interest with his family's vast financial holdings, and growing questions about his failure to qualify for a high-level security clearance.

-- Kushner spoke Monday morning at the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, an event overshadowed by violence that killed dozens of Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

-- L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered a commencement speech in New Hampshire on Sunday, adding another notch to his travels in key primary states as he contemplates a run for president.

-- Adopting another measure to counter the Trump administration, the California Senate on sent the governor a bill that would bar the disclosure of the immigration status of victims and witnesses in open court unless a judge rules the information is relevant to the case. If Brown signs the measure, it would become law immediately.

-- Brown warned local water agency officials from throughout California that unless the San Joaquin Delta tunnels project gets needed permits soon and continues advancing, the major infrastructure project may not happen in their lifetime.

-- California's teachers' retirement system will pressure retail companies it invests in to stop selling firearms and parts that are outlawed by the state, and would consider divesting from firms that refuse to make changes.

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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