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Essential Politics: The suspense of Super Tuesday

Good morning from the state capital. I'm Sacramento bureau chief John Myers, and while we've got a lot going on up here, let's just stipulate that the political world has its eyes firmly fixed on the dozen states that, by day's end, may permanently set the stage for the most unusual presidential race in modern times.

Yes, it's Super Tuesday.

Is this the night Donald Trump seals the deal in the Republican race? Is it the night Hillary Clinton puts enough distance between herself and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to no longer "feel the Bern"?

All eyes will be on Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia for the tale of the tape in both political parties. Alaska will be awarding GOP delegates; and Colorado will vote only on the Democrats.

(Wyoming, while holding caucuses, will not be awarding delegates on Tuesday.)

Mark Z. Barabak offers the five things to watch today, and Mike Memoli explains everything you need to know about the delegate process here.

Our team is fanned out across the country covering the candidates. Follow along and get live results and analysis on Trail Guide. You can also see the race to the nomination take shape on our delegate tracker.

TUSSLE AT TRUMP RALLY

A Secret Service agent threw a news photographer to the ground at a Trump rally in Virginia on Monday. As Michael Finnegan writes, it apparently began when the photographer stepped slightly out of the designated holding pen for journalists.

Trump, who also mixed it up verbally with a protester at the rally, told the crowd that half of the press is "absolute sleaze."

A PRESIDENTIAL PRE-PRIMARY DAY ROUNDUP

Meantime, an Iowa political group has taken aim at the legacy of what was called Trump University. Joseph Tanfani reports American Future Fund is unveiling a series of first-person ads that Trump is threatening to challenge in court.

And Lisa Mascaro writes on how those backing the New York real estate mogul don't neatly organize themselves around tried-and-true GOP demands for smaller government. More simply, they identify mostly with the idea that the country has gone "downhill."

On the other side of the presidential race, Evan Halper reports that Clinton took notice of the GOP front-runner on Monday and his temperament for the nation's top job.

While Clinton is expected to do well tonight, she's not the choice of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). Over the weekend, she quit her honorary post with the Democratic National Committee to endorse Sanders. And as Christine Rushton reports, Gabbard explained why in news interviews on Monday.

HEALTHCARE TAX ON ITS WAY TO GOV. BROWN

Here in Sacramento, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to quickly sign legislation that revamps a tax on health insurance plans and provides $1.1 billion to the state's Medi-Cal program.

"Democrats and Republicans came together today to do what’s best for California," said Brown in a written statement after Monday’s bipartisan vote in both houses of the Legislature.

Melanie Mason has the details, as well as a nifty explainer on exactly how the so-called "MCO tax" really works.

A STATEWIDE VOTER DATABASE, AT LAST

In this year of presidential passions running high, roll the clock back to the contentious campaign of 2000 and consider that there were promises of reform in the wake of the recount that ended with the election of President George W. Bush.

More than 15 years later, California finally joins the rest of the nation in implementing one of the mandated reforms: an electronic, statewide voter registration database.

My story this morning finds that the final two counties flipped the switch on Monday to log in to the database, which will be fully certified in June. In all, it cost some $98 million to get up and running. And it's being counted on for other election changes, including automated registration at the DMV and Election Day voter registration as soon as this fall.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

— Sarah Wire writes that Rep. Judy Chu, who leads the Asian caucus in Congress, was among the people angry about Chris Rock’s PricewaterhouseCoopers joke during the Academy Awards on Sunday.

— Patrick McGreevy reports actor Rob Lowe is threatening legal action over his allegation that state Board of Equalization member Jerome Horton made an anti-Semitic comment during talks over a tax bill imposed on Lowe and his wife, Sheryl Berkoff.

— How much do you remember from last week in politics? Test your knowledge with this quiz from Colleen Shalby.

— Memoli explains why Sen. Chuck Grassley is the most important person to watch right now in Washington.

— Our entertainment staff wrote about John Oliver’s must-see attack on Trump, which ends with the comedian attempting to start a campaign using what might be the GOP candidate's ancestral surname, "Drumpf."

— Is Trump’s stance on immigration softer than he says publicly? That's what his rival campaigns are trying to find out.

LOGISTICS

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