Newsletter: Essential Politics: Why Pence won the debate, and why it may not matter


Maybe the Republican National Committee knew something we didn’t when it accidentally went live with claims that Mike Pence won the vice presidential debate — 90 minutes before he stepped out on stage.

Welcome to Essential Politics. I’m Christina Bellantoni.

Times analysts scoring the debate called some draws and a few strong moments for Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine but handed the evening to Pence. Many of his points were scored on style, as he came off as less aggressive while Kaine continually interrupted him.


What Kaine did do was repeat some of the Clinton campaign’s sharpest attacks on Donald Trump — over and over again. He made clear his role was to play fierce challenger to the GOP nominee and mostly ignore his actual rival’s record from the outset, telling voters that for him and his wife, the thought of Trump as president “scares us to death.”

The faceoff was distinguished by barbs and interruptions from the get-go, making for lively exchanges that frequently were punctuated by an “Oh, please” from Pence or a chiding from the moderator that the topic really wasn’t Trump’s taxes.

The bickering aside, Pence used his radio host voice and policy chops to deliver the performance Trump failed to achieve last week when facing Hillary Clinton.

As Cathleen Decker writes for today’s front page, “In the end it was hard to know: How much was this debate performance meant to arrest the Trump campaign’s weeklong slide? And how much was it the first blush of Pence’s own run for president in 2020?”


The Indiana governor smoothly, and without a hint of embarrassment, denied that Trump had said things Trump had said. And yet he repeatedly declined to attach himself too closely to Trump’s policies and priorities.

As we’ve noted in this space, vice presidential debates hardly matter, and neither man did any real damage to his running mate. They also escaped with little defense of their own records, because the evening was clearly outlined as a referendum on the people at the top of the ticket.


Here are a few things you might have missed.

We did fact-checking in real-time, from Kaine’s economic record in Virginia to what Trump really said about Putin.

— Decker, Mark Z. Barabak and Doyle McManus played judges and scored multiple rounds, ultimately handing the victory to Pence.

— Our team is annotating a transcript of the key exchanges.

This video shows how often Pence deflected Kaine’s jabs toward Trump.


— Trump provided running commentary on Twitter, and Clinton piped in.

— Melanie Mason rounded out the moments that defined the night.

— Kaine managed to avoid a question on a major issue — his push for the authorization for use of military force against ISIS.

— Noah Bierman explained the significance of Farmville, Va., and where the heck it is.

— Here are the top photos of the evening.

— One moment that didn’t go unnoticed during the debate? When Pence referred to “that Mexican thing.”

Catch up quick with our full coverage, watch the debate in full, or see highlights from our fact-checks.

As the candidates head back out on the campaign trail, we’ll be there. Stay up on what’s happening via Trail Guide and follow @latimespolitics. Check our daily USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll at the top of the politics page.



Tonight will be your one-and-only chance to see state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez go head to head in a U.S. Senate debate. The Democrats will take the stage at Cal State Los Angeles at 7 p.m. for a debate that will be televised live on ABC7 and C-SPAN. Cal State LA will webcast the debate.

We’ll run a livestream and our team will be covering it live on Essential Politics.

Sanchez, meanwhile, is now on her third campaign manager. Phil Willon reports that the Orange County congresswoman brought in union organizer Maria Unzueta to lead the campaign through the general election. Unzueta replaces Millie Herrera, who ran Sanchez’s campaign through the June 7 primary. Tim Allison, a Ventura County union official, managed Sanchez’s campaign when it first kicked off, but left after a few months.

The Truman National Security Project, a progressive national security group, endorsed Harris on Tuesday morning, praising her work as attorney general on cyber-security, consumer privacy and her work with law enforcement to disrupt human traffickers and drug cartels.

Sanchez has long cited her national security bonafides from her time in Congress as the reason she’s the better candidate.


Election day is five weeks away, but nearly 100,000 votes have already been cast nationwide. Michael Memoli took a look at the states where early voting is picking up.

Californians can start to vote next week. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 24.


Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is back on California’s airwaves again — this time to promote Proposition 61, the ballot initiative seeking to lower prescription drug prices for state agencies.

The measure is one of a couple dozen that Sanders and his new group, Our Revolution, have endorsed, Christine Mai-Duc reports.

Prop. 61, sponsored by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation and opposed vigorously by drug companies, seeks to tie prices state agencies pay for prescription drugs to those paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Voting yes on the measure “will be a real blow against this greedy industry that will reverberate all over America,” Sanders says in the 30-second ad, now running statewide.

To see the spot and for more on the ballot measures, keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed.


— Californians wading through the long list of statewide ballot measures on Nov. 8 may wonder why they are being asked to weigh in on Proposition 52, a wonky measure about Medi-Cal. The answer dates back to a state budget crisis in 2012, Sophia Bollag reports.

— A barrage of television and radio ads has been launched by the campaign for Proposition 64, arguing that the measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana has restrictions to keep pot out of the hands of minors and will generate $1 billion in new tax revenue. The campaign has reported this week that it has spent $6.8 million of the more than $14 million it has raised so far on broadcast, cable television and radio ads throughout the state.

— In California’s 49th district congressional race, Democratic challenger Doug Applegate released a new ad criticizing Rep. Darrell Issa for his controversial comment about giving more financial aid to workers who responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And the San Diego Union-Tribune reports Issa is challenging Applegate over another series of ads in this increasingly competitive race.

Tom Steyer, California’s billionaire Democratic activist who has made environmental issues his political calling card, announced his endorsement Tuesday of Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison parole measure, Proposition 57.

— A doctor now is making the case against the Proposition 56 cigarette tax in a new TV ad.

First Lady Michelle Obama mocked Trump on the campaign trail.

— Jonah Goldberg devotes his column to that time Trump wrote him a thank-you note.

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


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