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Essential Politics: Obama says some of most revered presidents were polarizing

I’m Christina Bellantoni, the Essential Politics host today. Let’s get started.

As he enters his last year in office, President Obama said he hopes he has created "a tone for the next president" that is less strident than the political rhetoric on the campaign trail.

"Some of our most revered presidents were hugely polarizing. And people cussed them and called them everything but a child of God," Obama told The Times’ Christi Parsons in a 45-minute interview in Springfield, Ill. on Wednesday. "I suspect that when I’m done being president, suddenly people will start saying, 'Oh, you know that guy, he wasn’t a bad guy.'"

The president spoke to Parsons after an hour-long speech calling for comity in politics at the state capital.

She started the story with an anecdote about how the interview took place: Obama craved a few moments with a few friends who remember when he was not a polarizing figure but an effectively bipartisan one — his poker buddies from his eight years in the Illinois Senate.

The three retired state senators, two Democrats and a Republican, were still laughing about Obama’s warmly received address to the Illinois General Assembly when Obama sat down to join them for the interview with the Los Angeles Times about the legislative gridlock in Washington and his role in it.

The president reflected on race, partisanship and if he should have hosted more parties for Congress at the White House. Check out the story or read the transcript.

BLACK VOTES MATTER

At the same time, the Democrats aiming to replace Obama turned their attention to a more diverse electorate as they compete in what is looking like a prolonged contest.

Evan Halper and Chris Megerian report that Hillary Clinton’s allies in the black community moved aggressively Wednesday to shore up her support with minority voters after her crushing defeat in New Hampshire, as Sen. Bernie Sanders worked to win over the black and Latino voters who will now be crucial to the outcome of the Democratic nominating contest.

SANDERS BRINGS IN THE $$$

We detailed the money race on Trail Guide as big donors and individual donors alike take a fresh look at the race. Sanders announced Wednesday his campaign had raised $5.2 million in the 18 hours after his New Hampshire victory. The campaign says the average donation is $34.

George Skelton devotes his Thursday column to Sanders, finding that whether you like him or not, the Vermont senator is the first presidential candidate to make a "corrupt" campaign finance system a central issue.

DEMOGRAPHICS

Now that all the Granite State votes are counted, Clinton won just four precincts, and by a slim margin.

Cathleen Decker examined what she dubbed an across-the-board repudiation of Clinton in New Hampshire given Sanders won almost all categories of voters, including women.

New Hampshire is almost wholly white, more liberal and less religious than most states, which may make the defeat here a blip when the election season is concluded, Decker writes. But the sharp divisions evident Tuesday suggest trouble ahead for the national front-runner.

FIORINA ON FEMINISM

Speaking of women, former HP chief executive Carly Fiorina had a message for them when ending her bid for the presidency Wednesday.

"Do not let others define you," she wrote in a statement. "Do not listen to anyone who says you have to vote a certain way or for a certain candidate because you're a woman. That is not feminism.

"A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses and uses all her God-given gifts. And always remember that a leader is not born, but made," she wrote.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE GOP ESTABLISHMENT?

Noah Bierman and Lisa Mascaro take stock of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s strong second-place finish in New Hampshire’s primary and find it means donors and voters elsewhere will size him up anew, or maybe for the first time. Will his plodding electoral strategy hold up long enough to survive a national campaign?

Though few expect him to win South Carolina, which holds the next GOP primary Feb. 20, he could benefit as his two main rivals from Florida — former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio — continue their fierce battle to remain viable long enough to reach the Florida primary next month.

Another top rival, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, dropped out Wednesday after his sixth-place finish in New Hampshire. For now, the still-splintered and unstable nature of the competition benefits Donald Trump, they write.

Keep up with the news from the campaign trail, and join us for the Democratic presidential debate Thursday night on Trail Guide.

HEADED TO LOS ANGELES

As we’ve been reporting, Obama is in town today to tape an interview with Ellen DeGeneres and appear at some fundraisers. Will he become the first sitting president to dance on her show? We’ll cover every detail, from the potential for #Obamajam traffic to what John Legend sings, on our politics page.

CUTTING OIL USE IN HALF

Gov. Jerry Brown isn’t giving up on his goal of cutting petroleum use in California in half by 2030. Last year, Brown publicly challenged oil companies that lobbied to kill a similar provision in SB 350, the state’s climate change law. This year, he’s using his budget proposal to ask for more than $1 billion in cap-and-trade funds to go toward four programs that his administration says will help achieve that goal, reports Christine Mai-Duc.

A BRIGHT SPOT FOR CALIFORNIA REPUBLICANS

Phil Willon sat down with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and found the moderate Republican dodging questions on his own political future while he focuses on re-election.

Faulconer did outline his views on the minimum wage, California’s water crisis and the San Diego Chargers.

BILINGUAL DNC VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS CONFRONTATIONS AT TRUMP RALLIES

Now that Trump has notched his first primary victory, the Democratic National Committee is rolling out a new Internet attack video highlighting the GOP candidate's criticisms of immigrants, opposition to reform and what it describes as violent encounters between protesters and Trump supporters or security guards at his rallies over the last few months.

Titled "La Violencia y El Partido ReTrumplicano" or "Violence and the ReTrumplican Party," the video features Spanish language television news footage showing protesters being physically removed from Trump events intercut with a Republican National Committee video released last month highlighting the story of a Latino volunteer. It also includes footage of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz saying he opposes amnesty for immigrants in the country illegally. Look for the DNC and party leaders like Rep. Xavier Becerra to step up critiques of Cruz, Trump and Rubio.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

— Ex-Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca pleaded guilty Wednesday to lying to federal investigators, a stunning reversal for the longtime law enforcement leader who for years insisted he played no role in the misconduct that tarnished his agency. Baca’s plea in a downtown courtroom capped a string of prosecutions that began with low-ranking officials and worked up the chain of command.

— Over the objections of hundreds of supporters, the California Coastal Commission voted 7-5 on Wednesday to fire executive director Charles Lester.

— Two California Democrats are urging the Federal Trade Commission to rein in "gay conversion" therapy programs aimed at LGBT youth, Christine Mai-Duc reports. Reps. Jackie Speier (Hillsborough) and Ted Lieu (Torrance) urged the FTC to "take all actions possible" under its authority to stop the practice, which they called "unfair, deceptive and fraudulent." Read the letter here.

LOGISTICS

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