Newsletter: Essential Politics: Trump closing the gap


There are 49 days left until voters head to the polls. The first debate is one week from today. I’m Christina Bellantoni. This is Essential Politics.

David Lauter begins the week with a fresh look at Donald Trump’s widening lead in the Los Angeles Times/USC Dornsife Daybreak tracking poll. He writes that the Republican nominee for the first time has started to significantly close the gap with Hillary Clinton on the question of which candidate voters expect will win — a shift that could boost turnout on both sides.

The numbers come as the longstanding dustup over Trump falsely claiming President Obama was not born in America seemingly came to a close.

We tracked Trump’s evolution on the issue, and Cathleen Decker writes that the entire week fit into what has become a familiar pattern on the campaign trail: In a contest featuring two widely disliked candidates, each has risen in response to the other’s failings and each has fallen due to self-inflicted wounds.



Talk of the explosions in Manhattan made its way to the campaign trail, Trump told supporters Clinton wants to “abolish” the border, and Trump (twice) questioned what would happen if Clinton’s Secret Service officers disarmed.

Mike Pence is in “excellent” health, according to his doctor.


Obama told black voters over the weekend if they want to give him a good sendoff, they should go vote.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, the nonpartisan groups that run the presidential debates announced that Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein didn’t make the cut. Seema Mehta also reports that billionaire Mark Cuban offered Trump $10 million to talk policy with him for four hours.

In late-night television appearances, Clinton slapped at Republicans who criticized her lack of a smile during a national-security forum and Trump allowed his trademark bouffant to be mussed.

Get the latest from the campaign trail on Trail Guide and follow @latimespolitics. Check our daily USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll at the top of the politics page.


A multi-billion dollar mistake in the late 1990s meant taxpayers will bear the consequences of California’s pension crisis for decades to come.

State employee pensions are costing $5.4 billion this year alone — more than the state will spend on environmental protection, fighting wildfires and the emergency response to the drought combined. The difference between what all California government agencies have set aside for pensions and what they will eventually owe amounts to $241 billion.

Those sobering figures are how Jack Dolan kicked off our series looking at California’s pension crisis. Don’t miss what former Gov. Gray Davis told him for the project, a partnership between The Times, CALmatters and Capital Public Radio.


CALmatters’ Judy Lin details the facts you need to know.

Next up: Gov. Jerry Brown brokered the biggest pension rollback in California history. But how much of the problem has he really solved? Essential Politics subscribers will get the next story emailed to them when it’s published.


Strong majorities of Californians support two ballot measures that would extend income tax hikes on the state’s wealthiest citizens and increase the cigarette tax by $2 a pack. But Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, believes that the tobacco tax measure will tighten as opponents unleash the tens of millions of dollars they’ve raised in the campaign. By contrast, those against the income tax extensions haven’t reported raising any money.

More than half of California voters said they oppose a November ballot measure that would end the death penalty and replace the form of punishment with life without parole. Proposition 62 is one of two measures on the ballot that takes dueling approaches to fixing what many call a broken and expensive system.

Meantime, Brown’s proposal to revamp prison parole rules, Proposition 57, shows a strong chance of passage at this point in the election season. Two-thirds of those surveyed in our poll support the proposal to allow inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses additional ways to win an early release from prison.

View all of the data from our USC/LAT poll, courtesy of this link from SurveyMonkey.



Prop. 61, the November ballot measure aimed at curbing state spending on prescription drugs, could become one of the most expensive ballot box battles in state history, with more than $95 million raised by both sides to date. Christine Mai-Duc has all the basics of what you need to know about this proposed law, who’s behind both campaigns and what voters think at this stage.

For more on California’s 17 ballot measures, keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed.


Proposition 53 would require statewide voter approval for projects to be financed by more than $2 billion in state revenue bonds. Brown and establishment groups hate it, but it’s a ballot measure voters should consider, George Skelton writes in his Monday column.


The governor made history on Monday when he signed legislation to expand overtime pay for hundreds of thousands of California farmworkers. The new rules, to be phased in over the next four years starting in 2019, will eventually allow employees on farms and ranches across the state to earn overtime compensation after eight hours of work in a day or 40 in a week.

Leaders of the United Farm Workers of America have hailed Brown’s decision as a victory in their 80-year quest to establish broad workplace rights and protections for a vulnerable workforce made up largely of Latino immigrants. But as Jazmine Ulloa reports from Fresno, nowhere might better capture the tensions and emotions that continue to swirl around the issue than the Central Valley, where farmers and ranchers contend the new law will have harmful consequences for their businesses and their workers.


Most of the Republicans in California’s congressional delegation aren’t taking sides in the Democrat-on-Democrat U.S. Senate race, but several told Sarah Wire that they’d have an easier time working with Rep. Loretta Sanchez.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) is the only Republican to officially weigh in. He picked Sanchez earlier this month.


The race to replace retiring Santa Barbara Rep. Lois Capps is already one of the most expensive in the country, with spending by candidates and outside groups totaling about $5.5 million. That is about to go up by about an additional $1 million, reports Javier Panzar. The Democratic group House Majority PAC on Friday launched a $328,000 TV ad attacking Republican Justin Fareed for endorsing Trump. And the National Republican Congressional Committee has placed a $668,750 TV ad buy that covers a time period between Sept. 27 and Nov. 8. No word on whether that will support Fareed or attack Democratic Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal.


This week’s California Politics Podcast focuses on how two of the governor’s recent decisions -- signing into law expanded overtime for farmworkers and vetoing a tax break on diapers and tampons -- loom large in discussions over his political legacy.

John Myers also leads a discussion on recent skirmishes in the U.S. Senate race, and the final chapter in the state Capitol corruption scandal centered around former state Sen. Ron Calderon.


-- The Los Angeles Times is hosting another debate watch party, and this one will be our biggest yet. Join us on Sept. 26 at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Tickets are $13. RSVP here.

-- Sausage-making in Sacramento is often messy. But as Melanie Mason reports, one energy subsidy backed by a politically connected alternative energy company traveled a particularly convoluted path through the Legislature this year.

-- California enacted one of the toughest equal pay laws in the country less than a year ago, and supporters tell Sophia Bollag there are already signs it’s working.

-- Brown signed a bill providing more oversight to construction contractors in response to last year’s collapse of a balcony at a Berkeley apartment building that killed six students and injured seven others, many of them Irish exchange students.

-- Brown signed a bill to increase access to emergency anti-allergy medication, but not without blasting the drug company Mylan for its recent EpiPen price increases.

-- The U.S. Attorney’s office said Friday there won’t be any more charges coming from its investigation of Rep. Ami Bera’s father, Babulal Bera, and the at least $260,000 in illegal contributions he made to his son’s campaign by reimbursing contributors.

-- Michael Finnegan begins our look at policy issues and how they are playing out in the swing states with this piece on climate change set in Florida.

-- First Lady Michelle Obama was out on the campaign trail, offering voters reasons to get excited about Clinton.

-- Trump was endorsed by the largest police union in the country.

-- Who will win the November election? Give our Electoral College map a spin.


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