5 things to watch for in tonight's Republican debate (minus Donald Trump)

Republicans face off one last time before Iowa caucuses -- without Donald Trump

Follow along with Los Angeles Times staffers as the top candidates for the Republican presidential nomination take the stage tonight in Des Moines, Iowa. They event won't include the party's front-runner, Donald Trump, who has opted to skip the debate amid a feud with host Fox News.

The seventh Republican debate of the 2016 campaign will pit the candidates against one another for the final time before voters begin to choose a nominee.

Live coverage is on Trail Guide >>

Snapchat premieres campaign docuseries 'Good Luck America'

Snapchat introduced a political docuseries to its chat-and-video app Thursday, with the first 4-minute, 30-second episode describing Iowa’s role in the presidential election process.

The Venice start-up had produced comedies and other shows before deciding to temporarily scrap content efforts last fall, but the premiere of “Good Luck America” shows politics is one area where Snapchat sees opportunity.

The series stars Snapchat’s head of news content and former CNN political correspondent Peter Hamby as he visited several campaign events in Iowa. In a colorful tone welcoming to political newbies, as many of Snapchat’s mostly under-25 users likely are, Hamby describes how long-shot candidates have always looked to early-voting states to help propel them into the national spotlight.

There’s also as much entertainment as information. In describing an event for presidential candidate Chris Christie, Hamby says of the New Jersey governor, “Christie is desperate for media attention. Good thing I was there.”

The show features production elements that Snapchat first experimented with last year, such as showing two sides of conversation simultaneously by training a different camera on each subject. It was a novel approach for vertically oriented video on smartphones.

Campaigns collectively have begun spending six-figure sums to buy an expanding variety of ads on Snapchat in hopes of driving young people in key states to volunteer and vote for them.

Most candidates, and even the White House, now have Snapchat accounts where they are posting photos and videos daily. With the company looking to reach aggressive revenue goals, the 2016 election represents a goldmine.

Episodes of “Good Luck America” will air on major dates throughout the election season, and are accessible by clicking an icon in the app’s Discover news section on those days.

Has Bernie Sanders gone negative?

Bernie Sanders has vowed throughout the campaign that he would run no attack ads against Hillary Clinton, saying at least once that the ads are a “stupid” tactic that he has never used in his long political career. Now, his campaign is going on the air with this broadside on Wall Street, which takes particular aim at Goldman Sachs and the immense speaking fees it pays to politicians. The ad doesn’t name names, but does it need to? The Clinton campaign is accusing Sanders of a “last-minute sneak attack” and “a cynical political ploy.”   

I’m confident we’ll win back the Senate ... and I think we can make great inroads and maybe win back the House when nobody expects it now, when nobody expects it. But we’ve got to make the case.

Vice President Joe Biden speaking to House Democrats in Baltimore on Thursday about what the party needs to do to win down-ticket races this cycle

Powerful Nevada union alleges that Bernie Sanders campaign staffers masqueraded as members

 (Kurtis Lee / Los Angeles Times)
(Kurtis Lee / Los Angeles Times)

Campaign workers for Sen. Bernie Sanders impersonated members of a powerful Nevada union in an effort to gain access to its members, the union charged Thursday.

Culinary Union Local 226, the state's largest union, representing more than 55,000 members who work in the state's hotels and casinos, said in a statement that Sanders presidential campaign workers had tried to gain access to employee dining rooms in hotels along the Las Vegas Strip. The staffers wore buttons that appeared to signify membership in the union, the statement said.

On Thursday, Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, said the union was "disappointed and offended" by the Sanders campaign.

"It's completely inappropriate for any campaign to attempt to mislead Culinary Union members, especially at their place of work," Arguello-Kline said.

Sanders' campaign did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The union represents thousands of Latinos -- a key voting bloc in the state's Feb. 20 Democratic caucuses, the first nominating contest in the West. The union announced this month that it would not endorse a candidate ahead of the state's caucuses, staying neutral in the Democratic primary race between Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley.

Eight years ago, in a closely fought Democratic primary, the union backed then-Sen. Barack Obama over Clinton. But the endorsement flowered into a hostile dispute, with former President Bill Clinton accusing the union of strong-arming its members into backing Obama.

Chili Peppers' fundraiser for Bernie Sanders sells out overnight

 (Shepard Fairey)
(Shepard Fairey)

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are feeling the Bern.

The California rockers are planning a fundraiser for Sen. Bernie Sanders on Feb. 5 at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. 

Tickets, ranging from $500 to $2,000, sold out overnight.

Those who dished out the big bucks will get to meet the group and will receive this commemorative poster signed by the band and artist Shepard Fairey -- the man behind the Obama 2008 "Hope" posters.

The Chili Peppers aren't strangers to the campaign circuit. In September, they endorsed Sanders for president. A month prior, bassist Flea had declared his support for the candidate. 

And in 2008, frontman Anthony Kiedis got involved with President Barack Obama's campaign. 

But he wouldn't necessarily classify his actions as political.

"I take in an interest in the world, my country, people, but I don't know if I'd call it politics," Kiedis told Politico in a 2008 interview.

Doctor's note says Sanders in fine health

After a campaign spat earlier this month involving a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC that may – or may not – have been plotting to make an issue of Bernie Sanders’ physical fitness, the Vermont senator on Thursday released a letter from his doctor confirming he is in fine health.

“You are in overall very good health and active in your professional work, and recreational lifestyle without limitation,” said the letter signed by Brian Monahan and dated Jan. 20. Monihan is the attending physician in the U.S. Senate.

If Sanders were elected, he would be 75 years old upon taking office, older than any previous president on inauguration day. Although the letter says Sanders is in good health, there's plenty of detail showing he contenda with the typical everyday medical issues of a septuagenarian. Maybe too much detail for some voters.

Colonoscopy? Clear. Inguinal hernias? Repaired by a laparoscopic technique. There was a right true vocal cord cyst excision, some removal of superficial skin tumors and treatment for gout, hypercholesterolemia, diverticulitis and hypothyroidism. 

Clinton released a similar letter from her doctor in July. It noted that she, too, has a thyroid condition, among other mostly routine medical issues. 

Mike Huckabee says he'll join Donald Trump after undercard debate

Here's one Iowa voter Donald Trump can scratch off his list

Orange City, Iowa, resident Joanne Niezen (Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)
Orange City, Iowa, resident Joanne Niezen (Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

He says he’s not going to debate because he says Fox insulted him? He’s been insulting people since he started. That’s typical of a bully. He’s a coward. He’s afraid to be confronted.

Joanne Niezen, an Orange City, Iowa, Republican who "definitely" plans to caucus Monday and is deciding between Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio

Clinton calling all Californians

A member of Hillary Clinton's national finance committee and prominent Los Angeles philanthropist is urging her network to help out in the Hawkeye State — and across the Midwest. 

Lorna Johnson, who serves on President Obama's Kennedy Center arts advisory committee, sent an email with details about upcoming Clinton fundraisers in California, but added an ask: 

Can you make phone calls to supporters in nearby states? Finding volunteers in Nebraska and Kansas is a top priority. Take a quick hour on your day off tomorrow to phonebank and help our campaign find even more supporters ahead of the caucus. It's easy; you can even do it from your couch, so no excuses!

Can you help on the ground? Come to Iowa or New Hampshire! We love (and need!) volunteers and promise to put you to work.

More details on Clinton's fundraising in California in our Essential Politics newsletter. (Sign up: It's free!)

If you're a Californian who's going to Iowa to help, observe or participate, tell us why. Email us or tweet @LATpoliticsCA using #IAtoCA.

Add former pitcher John Rocker to Trump's legion of supporters

Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, left, and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. (John Bazemore, Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)
Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, left, and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. (John Bazemore, Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Former major league pitcher John Rocker was known for being outspoken about his not-so-politically correct beliefs.

And now he wants a president who shares the same quality.

Rocker told the Daily Caller that he "absolutely" endorses top Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and that he admires the billionaire's willingness to say exactly how he feels no matter how politically incorrect his views may be.

The debate choice for Republicans: Attack the absent Trump, or ignore him?

 (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

The eighth Republican debate of the 2016 campaign will pit Republicans against one another Thursday for the final time before the start of balloting -- save for Donald Trump, the party’s national front-runner and chief political provocateur.

The billionaire businessman figuratively stormed off the stage in a spat with Fox News over its choice of Megyn Kelly as co-moderator, and what Trump deemed an offensive and antagonistic comment mocking his concerns about her fairness.

That leaves a void and raises the question of whether other candidates will seek to fill the space, or use the chance to attack Trump when he can't hit back.

How Martin O'Malley could decide who wins the Democratic caucuses in Iowa

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. (Tannen Maury / European Pressphoto Agency)
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. (Tannen Maury / European Pressphoto Agency)

Jamie Dockendorff, a passionate supporter of Martin O’Malley, argues that the former Maryland governor is the only Democratic presidential candidate who can bridge the partisan divide in the nation’s capital and plans to caucus for him when Iowa holds its presidential nominating contest Monday.

But because of the quirky nature of the caucus process here, the 24-year-old software engineer may not be able to stick to that plan. Instead, Dockendorff and other O’Malley supporters could determine whether Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders wins the first contest of the nominating season.

Super PAC dangles $1.5 million in exchange for Trump and Cruz debating one-on-one

 (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Ted Cruz backers upped the ante to $1.5 million to draw Donald Trump into a one-on-one debate before the Iowa caucuses, as rivals jockey to capitalize on Trump's plan to skip Thursday's Republican presidential forum.

Two super PACs supporting Cruz, together called Keep the Promise, agreed to donate the money to the veterans charities for which Trump plans to hold an event Thursday in lieu of participating in the GOP debate in Des Moines.

But the super PAC leaders will withdraw the offer if the candidates don’t debate before Sunday in Iowa.

“He doesn't want to answer questions from the men and women of Iowa about how his record doesn't match what he's selling," Cruz told supporters Wednesday at an antiabortion rally.

Trump has not responded to any proposed alternative debates.

Cruz and Trump are neck-in-neck with Republicans in Iowa ahead of Monday's caucuses, according to various polls. 

"Senator Cruz and Mr. Trump both respect the veterans and hold them in the highest regard, but Senator Cruz respects the process,” Keep the Promise said in a statement. "Iowans — and Americans — deserve to hear from the front-runners in this 'two-man race' one last time."

Keep the Promise is made up of the donor families of finance moguls Toby Neugebauer and Robert Mercer. They have together invested about $21 million in support of Cruz’s campaign. 

Carly Fiorina is latest to try to lure Donald Trump into debate

Ted Cruz has already challenged Donald Trump to a one-on-one forum over the weekend after Trump vowed to skip Thursday night's Republican presidential debate.

Marco Rubio tries anger: The results are mixed

 (Patrick Semansky / AP)
(Patrick Semansky / AP)

Marco Rubio bet his presidential campaign on being the optimistic Republican with an uplifting message about the promise of America.

But hoping to tap into the voter unrest that has propelled his rivals, the Florida senator more recently began displaying an angrier, gloomier side. He has painted a grim portrait of a “great nation in decline,” particularly when it comes to terrorist threats endangering national security.

The results have been mixed: Negative Rubio has not amounted to a more popular Rubio.

Fox News is in for perhaps its biggest fight

Fox News Channel has long been considered an influential kingmaker in Republican politics. But what happens when it gets into a fight with a possible heir to the party's throne?

The cable news network is about to find out in its public battle with Donald Trump, the front-runner in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination who has never gotten over his confrontation with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly at the first primary debate on Aug. 6.

Ted Cruz courts evangelicals at lively rally

 (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Ted Cruz sought to shore up support among social conservatives and gain an edge over Donald Trump at a boisterous Wednesday night campaign stop outside Des Moines that was billed as an antiabortion rally.

Joined by high-profile conservatives who dubbed themselves a “coalition for life,” Cruz attacked Trump on issues important to evangelical Christian voters, a bloc that Cruz has long drawn support from until recently losing ground to Trump.

Cruz is furiously trying to regain backing from social conservatives in the final days before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest.

“When have you ever defended marriage? When have you ever defended religious liberty?” the Texas senator demanded of the absent Trump, to loud cheers from the standing-room-only audience that spilled into an anteroom. “Don’t tell me you’re pro-life. Show me.”

Donald Trump retweets a seductive magazine photo of Megyn Kelly

 (John Minchillo / Associated Press)
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

Donald Trump promised he wouldn’t call Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” — but he never said he wouldn’t quote someone else doing so. 

On Thursday, Trump retweeted a photo of Kelly posing in a black silk slip for GQ magazine.

“And this is the bimbo that’s asking presidential questions?” the retweet read.

Heading into Thursday’s GOP presidential debate in Des Moines, Trump’s and Kelly’s six-month feud reignited when debate host Fox News, standing by its decision to have Kelly moderate, mocked Trump. In turn, Trump labeled Kelly a “lightweight” reporter and again accused her of attacking him during the first primary debate in August, when she asked him about his history of calling women “fat pigs” and “slobs."

The GOP front-runner then announced he would skip the debate and instead hold an event for veterans.

“Megyn Kelly is really biased against me,” Trump said in an Instagram post Wednesday. “She knows that. I know that. Everybody knows that. Do you really think she can be fair at a debate?”

He repeated in several interviews this week that he felt Kelly could not ask him fair questions.

“Mr. Trump has repeatedly brought up that exchange as evidence of alleged bias on my part,” Kelly said on her show ,“The Kelly File.” “I maintain it was a tough but fair question, and we agreed to disagree.”