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Essential Politics: The battle for the Senate and how the Trump twist has hurt the GOP

Essential Politics: The battle for the Senate and how the Trump twist has hurt the GOP
(LAT)

There are just over two weeks until the conclusion of this election cycle, and more attention than ever is being paid to the battle for control of the House and Senate.

I'm Christina Bellantoni. Welcome to Essential Politics.

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Republicans are prepared for a worst-case scenario, particularly in the Senate, where Democrats need to pick up four seats to flip the chamber if Hillary Clinton wins the White House, or five if Donald Trump wins.

The best hope for the GOP is that it can stem its losses with candidates who heeded early warnings not to hitch their prospects to Trump's volatile presidential campaign, Lisa Mascaro reports. But Republican senators who have agonized most over the nominee — toggling between support for and distance from Trump — are among those now seriously in jeopardy.

Don't miss our balance of power chart to see just how precarious things are for the GOP.

HILLARY CLINTON RALLIES BLACK VOTERS IN NORTH CAROLINA

None of the traditional battleground states has more black voters than North Carolina, meaning Clinton's path to victory goes right through the African American community.

Chris Megerian reports on the significance of how she spent Sunday: stumping at a historically black college, giving an interview to the state's largest black newspaper and appearing with mothers who lost their sons to gun violence or after encounters with law enforcement.

WEEKEND HEADLINES

An adult film actress accused Trump of kissing her and offering to pay her money for sex.

Before the woman came forward Saturday, Trump vowed to sue his accusers.

"Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign," Trump said while campaigning in Pennsylvania. "Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over."

His campaign manager acknowledged being "behind" in the final stretch.

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 CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT WHERE WATER RULES

In a campaign season where the most frequent question for Republican candidates seems to be about their party's presidential nominee, the 21st Congressional District is still talking about water.

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With a 75% Latino population, and a tendency to support Democrats for president, the Central Valley district looks like an easy pickup for Democrats, on paper. But the district has been a hard nut for Democrats to crack since Rep. David Valadao first won the seat in 2012. Sarah Wire reports from Hanford about why Valadao might buck national trends, and how Emilio Huerta may not be Democrats' best chance to deliver a victory.

We're tracking several other interesting races, including the swing 7th Congressional District in Northern California. Sophia Bollag reports how mudslinging between Rep. Ami Bera and Sheriff Scott Jones and allegations of wrongdoing have been the focal point of what will likely be one of the tightest contests in the state.

In case you missed it, The Times published a detailed voter guide on the hottest congressional races in California in Sunday's paper. For up to the minute news on California politics, keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed.

PATTY LOPEZ ON HER OWN AND NOT GIVING UP

Assemblywoman Patty Lopez is facing one of the biggest uphill battles of any incumbent this fall. She's running against former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, the man she defeated in 2014 by a margin of 466 votes in one of the biggest electoral shockers in years. But while Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon recently stumped for five Democratic candidates in a single weekend, Lopez was not one of them, Christine Mai-Duc reports.

"I've been blocked from my party, but my district knows who is Patty Lopez," she said on a recent Saturday as she handed out campaign flyers. "Sometimes I feel disappointed, but that's not stopping me from doing what I need to do." Lopez, who lost to Bocanegra by a 44.4%-27.2% margin in the June primary, says she's a "woman of faith" who believes "100%" that she'll be reelected.

A 'DESTROYED' REPUTATION

Former state Sen. Ronald Calderon, once the most powerful member of a politically influential family, was sentenced Friday in Los Angeles to 42 months in prison after he pleaded guilty in a federal corruption case.

Patrick McGreevy and Joel Rubin have the story of the Montebello Democrat's downfall after serving eight years in the state Senate for eight years ending in 2014. His plea was admitting to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from undercover FBI agents and a hospital executive in return for official favors.

NEWS ON THE PROPOSITIONS

-- George Skelton calls the gun control measure, Proposition 63, a textbook example of how public policy can be radically changed in a democracy laden with competing checks and balances. That’s through the long, slow process of taking incremental steps over decades. And some patience, he writes in his Monday column.

-- Here is what would happen if California voters approve the dueling death penalty measures, Proposition 62 and Proposition 66, on the Nov. 8 ballot.

-- In the first ads released by the "No on 62, Yes on 66" campaign a murder victim's mother urges voters to keep the death penalty.

-- Doctors, hospitals and insurance companies are spending a lot of money to support the Proposition 56 tobacco tax hike -- closing a spending gap between supporters and the tobacco industry that was much bigger in previous tax campaigns.

-- In its latest ad against Proposition 56, the tobacco industry says there isn't enough oversight of money the tax hike would bring it. But the ad ignores the litany of audit requirements on the state's healthcare program for low-income residents.

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-- Despite political differences with its author, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) on Thursday endorsed Proposition 63 to expand tough gun control laws. It was proposed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has clashed with De León over the best way to enact gun control. "I endorse Proposition 63 because we must send a powerful and united message to the national Gun Lobby that California will not capitulate to political bullying or compromise the public safety," de León said.

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders explained why he is campaigning for Proposition 61 in a Times op-ed piece over the weekend.

IT'S GOOD TO BE ATTORNEY GENERAL

There are few political offices in California that generate more news coverage than that of the attorney general, and U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris has been a major beneficiary of that soap box. Phil Willon reports that Harris, now in her second term, has had a distinct advantage over her Senate rival, Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez, when it comes to attracting throngs of news reporters. Political veteran and former attorney general Bill Lockyer said there's almost no downside publicity-wise to the office Harris holds. It's much tougher for Sanchez, one of 435 members in the House of Representatives, to rise above the din in Washington.

Willon reports that Harris got another boost from the California Democratic Party, which increased its direct support for her Senate campaign to $690,000. The state party, which endorsed Harris in February, hasn't given Sanchez a nickel. The party also forked out $431,000 for a slate campaign mailer sent to voters that features Harris, Clinton and local Democrats endorsed by the party.

Sanchez did get a dose of good news this week. The Council on American-Islamic Relations California issued a co-endorsement in the Senate race for both Sanchez and Harris, and praised Sanchez's record on helping protect the civil rights of Muslims. Sanchez was criticized last year after a comment about Muslims' support for establishing a strict Islamic state.

And during an address to ROTC cadets at UCLA, Sanchez said she received death threats after she voted against the Iraq war on 2002. "[When] I came back to Orange County, I was spit on," she said.

POLITICAL ROAD MAP: UNLIMITED LEGISLATIVE CASH

As candidates for the Legislature wind their way into the homestretch of the campaign season, they're doing so with an enormous amount of money from political parties -- unlimited amounts of it.

In this week’s Political Road Map column, Sacramento bureau chief John Myers takes a look at a legal way Democrats and Republican avoid campaign contribution limits, and how one lawmaker vows to try to change the system next year.

POLITICS PODCAST: PROPOSITIONS AND PAROLE

In the latest episode of the California Politics Podcast, Myers leads a discussion on some new polling of ballot propositions that have left a lot of voters undecided. Meantime, there's a big showdown in store over Gov. Jerry Brown's prison parole measure, Proposition 57.

On Sunday we also printed The Times' ballot box guide to California's 17 propositions.

WHAT'S IN YOUR MAILBOX?

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 politics@latimes.com. Include your name, city, state and age, and tell us about the material you're sharing. Your submissions may be featured on our site.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

-- Today is the last day to register to vote in California.

-- Tom Hayden, the 1960s radical who became champion of liberal causes, died at age 76.

-- More Trump University drama erupted Friday as the lawsuit sought to exclude testimony from L.A. Times columnist David Lazarus.

-- The Trump brand has taken a hit this year.

-- We bid farewell to debates with our final scorecard on how the candidates did after three matchups.

-- Someone paid $22,000 for the naked Trump statue that appeared in Hollywood.

-- In a surprising move, the Los Angeles Daily News has endorsed write-in candidate Angela Rupert over two-term Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks). Rupert, a political neophyte, landed a spot on the ballot with just 131 write-in votes.

-- Positive reports came out of the governor's mansion Friday about Sutter Brown.

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-- 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.

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

LOGISTICS

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