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Essential Politics: And now, at long last, it's time to vote

Essential Politics: And now, at long last, it's time to vote
Essential Politics (Los Angeles Times)

For 727 days, Americans have wrestled with the choices they made at the ballot box. The presidency, the control of Congress, the resulting policy choices have left hardly a single hour free from strident debate and discord.

And now, we’re just hours away from the best measure yet of how the nation’s voters feel about the legacy of 2016 and, more specifically, President Trump. Not that we should expect Tuesday’s midterm election will settle all fights — even as early voting seems brisk, at a pace in some states that could outpace total ballots cast in 2014.

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DECISION CALIFORNIA: FROM D.C. TO THE GOVERNOR’S MANSION

Of course, voting began almost four weeks ago here in California. As of this past weekend, more than 3.6 million Golden State voters had turned in their absentee ballots — more votes cast, by the way, than the voting rolls in at least three dozen U.S. states. Yes, we’re that big.

My colleagues Melanie Mason, Christine Mai-Duc, Liam Dillon and I discussed some of the most important races in the final pre-election episode of the California Politics Podcast.

Even with the leadership of its state government on the line, the lion’s share of attention in California has been on a handful of key races for the House.

In a final dash across the Central Valley and Southern California, rival candidates focused the waning hours of their campaigns on the most rudimentary of chores: ensuring supporters cast their ballots.

Love or hate him — and there are plenty of people on both sides — Trump has almost single-handedly turned California’s political slackers into political activists.

His record in office has also sparked a number of first-time congressional candidates. As Jessica Morse tells it, a Democrat running in the reliably red 4th Congressional District against Rep. Tom McClintock, the only office she has ever held is president of her high school Key Club.

The president’s rhetoric on immigration has also made this a key election in the political power of Latino voters. Twenty-nine million are eligible to vote in this year’s midterm election, making up 13% of all eligible voters in the U.S. Whether they vote or not, Latinos are poised to play a pivotal role in key midterm races.

And don’t forget healthcare. As the Affordable Care Act’s provisions have become reality and the GOP repeal effort threatened to take insurance away from people who were benefiting from it, the law has gone from a political hot potato for Democrats to a Republican liability.

Change, too, has been a backdrop to this election — like the evolution of Orange County, long an anti-communist, conservative bastion and now the possible epicenter of a Democratic jolt on Tuesday.

Demographic change is part of the story, too, this week for the 49th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Darrell Issa — combined with a financial scandal in the Republican candidate's family and Democratic scheming in the primary.

And then there’s the metamorphosis of the outskirts of Los Angeles County. It’s certainly opened a path for Rep. Steve Knight’s Democratic rival, Katie Hill, to seize this once-solid Republican turf.

Our Times team of reporters fanned out over the weekend to take one final read of some of the most intense races. In the Central Valley, Rep. Jeff Denham insisted it was water storage — not Trump or GOP national leadership — at stake in the election. In other cases, reporters struggled to get access to GOP incumbents.

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And yes, Californians must also decide who will be the state’s 40th governor. The policy differences between GOP businessman John Cox and Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are many.

Newsom, in particular, has made his closing argument a promise to expand and improve early childhood education programs along with prenatal and child care — proposed investments with broad support among California voters and little political risk.

There are also 11 statewide ballot propositions facing an up-or-down vote. And then the most local of political decisions that the state’s voters have to decide on Tuesday: Some $20 billion in borrowing and community tax proposals. As I wrote on Sunday, local governments have very few other ways to find the cash they need to balance their budgets.

NATIONAL LIGHTNING ROUND

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-- About four in 10 partisans on each side said they were closely following the election campaign, according to the final USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. That’s a big shift from 2010.

-- Democrats may be playing offense in the battle for the House, but the shoe’s on the other foot when it comes to the Senate, where they’re struggling to defend incumbents in a half-dozen states — Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia — that Donald Trump carried in 2016.

-- As Tuesday’s midterm election looms, the Florida high school students who launched a national movement remain confident that even as they recede from the national spotlight, their gun control message continues to resonate.

-- The total price of the president's military deployment to the border, including the cost of National Guard forces that have been there since April, could climb well above $200 million by the end of 2018.

-- When Trump talks about the economy, he prefers broad, sweeping statements. But he sometimes gets more specific. Here are Trump's claims and the facts.

-- A Native American tribe is suing to stop North Dakota's new voter identification law before the midterm election, saying that the law disenfranchises voters living on reservations.

-- Major criminal justice and civil rights issues are up for a vote on Tuesday across several states. They include the rights of ex-felons to vote in Florida, the use of non-unanimous juries in Louisiana and how police shootings are prosecuted in Washington state.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- The race for Los Angeles County sheriff pits the establishment incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell against a lesser-funded political newcomer in a battle that was never supposed to be this close.

-- Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas won reelection with 73.3% of the vote in 2014. But Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a fellow Republican, has spent more than $2.2 million on this year’s contest. And the bad blood between the men runs deep.

-- A rally by a conservative political group at the state Capitol on Sunday afternoon drew a crowd of counter-protesters amid a heavy police presence.

-- California’s political watchdog agency is seeing a spike in allegations of campaign irregularities in what has become an especially contentious election year.

-- On this week’s California housing crisis podcast, everything you need to know about the housing issues on the state ballot.

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is published Monday and Friday.

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