What Biden’s visit in California says about the midterms

A man in a blue suit and a woman in a lavender pantsuit stand at a fast food counter.
President Biden, Rep. Karen Bass, center, and L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, right, make a stop at Tacos 1986 in Westwood on Thursday.
(Eli Stokols / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Oct. 14. I’m Kelcie Pegher, and I work on the audience engagement team as our deputy editor of partnerships. You can mostly find me behind the scenes, but I’m happy to bring you the news today.

The president, a congresswoman and some reporters entered a taco shop. You’re probably waiting for the punch line to that setup, but it was just part of President Biden’s media blitz ahead of the midterms. Traditionally, an incumbent president sees their party lose seats in a midterm election — which may make Democrats squeamish about appearing too close to Biden.

“There’s just a lot swirling in the atmosphere, and you don’t know where it’s all going to land,” Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster in Washington told my colleague Eli Stokols about Biden’s Western tour. For Democrats on the November ballot, “there’s something to sell,” he continued. “But you have to get voters over the hump. There are real accomplishments, but some voters won’t be able to see them through the more immediate concerns about inflation and uncertainty.”


It is quite a week for Biden to visit Los Angeles, as the fallout from a leaked racist audio recording continues to roil City Hall. You know you’re in the middle of a real scandal when the White House calls on you to resign, as Biden requested of Nury Martinez earlier in the week. Former City Council President Martinez did resign from the council Wednesday, but neither Councilmembers Gil Cedillo nor Kevin de León — who were also heard on the recording — have joined her in resigning. Biden didn’t address the scandal during his stops Thursday but earlier called the language at the secretly recorded meeting “appalling.”

Biden came this week to show support for Congresswoman and mayoral candidate Karen Bass. Bass has been leaning on high-profile endorsements from prominent Democrats. She is running against Rick Caruso, a real estate developer who has poured more than $70 million into his campaign, nearly all of it his own money.

The two attended a campaign event at the Metro Purple Line, where Biden talked infrastructure, before grabbing lunch at Tacos 1986.

“When he was right here, I felt like I was blacking out,” said Isai Alejo, the clerk who served Biden.

Stokols gave us the back story behind the visit to the taco shop: The White House gave the business, staffed only by Alejo and two others, just a few minutes’ warning before Biden’s motorcade pulled up.

“A [Secret Service] guy came in and looked around in the back. And then it was happening.”

Just in case you wanted to know Biden’s order at Tacos 1986 — two chicken quesadillas to go. Equally as important, mine is an adobada and a mushroom taco con todo.


Biden heads to Irvine on Friday and then Portland, Ore., for events on lowering drug prices. He’ll have one more event in Portland before flying back East on Saturday.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Nury Martinez and the limits of Latinx political representation. Is it too meta to refer to another newsletter in a newsletter? Fidel Martinez looked into the ambitions behind Martinez’s closed-door meeting — that redistricting Koreatown could solidify a “renters’ district,” and why that wouldn’t work in her favor. Los Angeles Times

Meanwhile, Martinez’s “little Latina girls” line in resignation letter backfires: ‘Girl WHAT?’ In her resignation letter, the disgraced politician addressed “all little Latina girls across the city” and said, “I hope I’ve inspired you to dream beyond that which you can see.” It didn’t go over well. Los Angeles Times

USC offered Karen Bass scholarship before she was admitted to social work school, records show. A new investigation from Matt Hamilton shows that Bass was awarded a scholarship to USC’s social work school without having directly applied. Los Angeles Times

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Pelosi gets off-menu zoodles. Here’s how the rest of the rich and famous get treated at S.F. restaurants. When they leave Los Angeles, they go to San Francisco. Fun inside details from chefs in San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle

How all 15 L.A. City Council members have responded to the racist leaked audio. Some background on L.A.’s 15 council members (Martinez resigned Wednesday, so technically there are 14 members now) and their statuses. Los Angeles Times

Friday’s L.A. City Council meeting canceled, next steps unclear. Calling it a “moment-by-moment crisis,” acting council President Mitch O’Farrell canceled today’s meeting. The council needs a quorum of 10 members to meet. Los Angeles Times

Want to be an election observer in California? Here’s how. Observers don’t need to be registered voters or even be old enough to vote. Sacramento Bee


“You’re obviously a target”: Rappers rethink security protocols in wake of PnB Rock killing. The Black music community has suffered a string of high-profile and violent losses of life over the last couple of years, forcing rappers to rethink how they interact with Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles is running out of water, and time. Are leaders willing to act? L.A. has invested significantly in its water future, but many projects remain unfinished. We asked Karen Bass and Rick Caruso their plans. Los Angeles Times

Residents urged to protect themselves against hydrogen sulfide from treatment plant. Staff made indoor air filters available to local high schools and middle schools and urged nearby residents with symptoms to seek medical care. The Mercury News


Bay Area bakery draws crowds with life-size bread sculpture of famous “Star Wars” scene. The bakery is bringing “Pan Solo” to life with bread. San Francisco Chronicle

What happened to the goose that stole all the attention at Dodgers playoff game? During the eighth inning for a brief moment in time, it was a wild goose chase. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: 74, partly cloudy. San Diego: 68, mostly cloudy. San Francisco: 64, partly cloudy. San Jose: 76, partly cloudy. Fresno: 90, sunny. Sacramento: 87, partly cloudy.


Today’s California memory is from Marina Jimenez:

I was born and raised in East Los Angeles, in an immigrant household in an immigrant community. I grew up on equal parts menudo, matzo, miso, and borscht. Growing up in this blended community, in this extraordinary region where in the span of a single day one is exposed to peoples of more than 140 countries, speaking 224 identified languages, sparked my love and curiosity to learn about other cultures, ethnicities, foods, and lands. But no matter how far these two feet take me, I always come home to El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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