Newsletter: Essential Politics: Trump keeps nation in ‘suspense’ — would he accept a Nov. 8 loss?


It started without a handshake and went downhill from there.

I’m Christina Bellantoni. This is Essential Politics, with 18 days left of the campaign. More than 2.3 million Americans have already voted.

The third and final presidential debate was marked with words like “nasty” and “horrifying,” even as it was Donald Trump’s strongest debate of the bunch.

Or as Cathleen Decker puts it, the Republican presidential nominee undid what would have been his best performance in just a few words.


It shouldn’t have been all that surprising given how Trump has increasingly been talking on the campaign trail about the election being “rigged.” Still, when Trump’s response after being asked directly by moderator Chris Wallace if he would commit to the principle of the loser conceding to the winner was, “I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense,” there were audible gasps inside the debate hall.

(The crowd at the Los Angeles Times debate watch party in downtown Los Angeles was equally stunned, but wasn’t nearly that friendly.)

Hillary Clinton herself seemed taken aback and told the nation, “That’s horrifying.” She then rattled off things Trump had called rigged over the years, including the Emmy Awards when his show wasn’t nominated. As if to punctuate her point, Trump chimed in, “Should have gotten it.”


Much of the rest of the debate was marked by substantive discussion on issues ranging from gun policy to Social Security and touching on places from Aleppo to Mosul. But more so than at other meetings between the candidates, fact checkers were kept busy, because Trump kept giving them material.

Through the course of the evening, Trump flatly denied saying things that many voters repeatedly have seen or heard on tape — among them his suggestion that the women who have accused him of sexual abuse were too unattractive to be his targets, his mocking of a disabled reporter, and his support for invading Iraq more than a decade ago.


— For junkies who want to catch up quick, we covered every moment in real time, and here are a few highlights you won’t want to miss:

— Our judges called the debate for Clinton.

— The full debate video.

— A gallery of the best debate photos.

— Our annotated transcript of the “nasty” and “horrifying” exchanges of the night.


— Trump criticized Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and our fact-checkers found his claim that she was “forced” to apologize to him was “almost” true.

— Among the night’s top dictionary searches: the words “hombre,” “espionage” and “amnesty.”

— From Mexico City, Kate Linthicum detailed what it was like to watch Trump talk about “bad hombres” in a Mexican BBQ joint.

— Trump’s citation of a Pew report isn’t quite accurate.

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.


President Obama is stepping up big for U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris in a new ad, Phil Willon reports. Her latest ad features Obama praising Harris’ work as California’s attorney general, saying she took on transnational gangs “and won,” sued for-profit colleges for scamming students “and won” and took on the big banks responsible for the mortgage meltdown.

Obama announced his support for Harris in July. She has been a longtime political ally of the president, including serving as the California co-chair of his 2008 presidential campaign.


And Harris wasn’t the only candidate to get the presidential blessing in an ad this week, Javier Panzar reports. Obama recently cut at least five ads for candidates, wearing the same dark suit and purple-striped tie in what appears to be the same room. Most of the candidates are in hotly contested races that could help Democrats win control of Congress. Others have personal ties to the president.

As we wrote about yesterday, that includes Bryan Caforio, who is challenging freshman Rep. Steve Knight in a tossup race in north Los Angeles County.

For the latest in California politics, keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed.


Maura Dolan has the next installment in our series about California’s pension crisis, exploring an appeals court ruling that could be a vehicle for reducing a shortfall amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars in state and local pension systems and a potentially huge win for advocates of cutting government pensions. If upheld by the California Supreme Court, the decision could lead to the kinds of cutbacks previous courts blocked.

The series is a partnership of The Times, CALmatters and Capital Public Radio. Don’t miss any of it.


Four years after playing a big role in trying to stop income tax and tobacco tax increases, major business leaders are taking different stances on measures that would do the same this year.

Little money is going into a campaign opposing the higher income tax rates and many business groups are supporting the push to increase the cigarette tax by $2 a pack, Liam Dillon reports. Business leaders say their stances are about the specifics of the measures on this year’s ballot, and vow to fight tax hikes in the future.


On the other hand, the tobacco industry has launched an all-out attack on Proposition 56, which would increase the state tax on cigarettes by $2 a pack. Their strategy is simple, George Skelton writes in his Thursday column: Tell voters “wealthy special interests” are behind the ballot measure, which its opponents have called a “tax grab.”

For more on ballot measures, here’s The Times’ ballot box guide to California’s 17 propositions.


Most high school students can’t vote on Nov. 8, but the issues affecting young people aren’t going anywhere. The Times’ youth journalism program High School Insider asked students across Southern California what issue they wanted the next president to address. Their top concerns: immigration, higher education and gay rights. Watch the video.


Have you received a barrage of campaign mailers this election season? Are you bombarded with information about local races and propositions? We want to hear from you.

Send images of campaign mailers and door-hangers, mp3 recordings of robo calls or links to web ads to Include your name, city, state and age, and tell us about the material you’re sharing. Your submissions may be featured on our site.


— Signaling that his gubernatorial campaign will shift into higher gear after next month’s election, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he is working on a plan to double spending on roads and other infrastructure since the Legislature failed to act this year.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange) reported raising $504,000 from July through September for her U.S. Senate campaign and having $879,000 cash on hand as of Sept. 30. Sanchez lags far behind Harris in the money race.

— Barbara Demick reports from New York City on how home has become an uncomfortable place for some this election season. At several Trump buildings, residents are quietly petitioning to get rid of his name.

— Kurtis Lee hung out with Gary Johnson before his Hollywood rally. The Libertarian nominee told him “it just sucks” he wasn’t included on the debate stage.

— Collen Shalby put together a look at the sexual misconduct allegations against Trump and Bill Clinton.

— David Lauter explains how a data expert tweaked the USC/ L.A. Times poll and put Clinton ahead of Trump.

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

— Learn more about the propositions on the ballot at the SeePolitical BallotCon event at the end of the month. It’s free. Sign up here.


Miss yesterday’s newsletter? Here you go. Did someone forward you this? Sign up here to get Essential Politics in your inbox daily. And keep an eye on our politics page throughout the day for the latest and greatest. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to