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Essential Politics: An Electoral College map with multiple pathways

Essential Politics: An Electoral College map with multiple pathways
(Los Angeles Times)

What a difference a week makes.

Last Monday, Democrats were still reeling from the 11th-hour revelation there were more Hillary Clinton emails that the FBI was probing. This Monday, with less than 24 hours until the first polls open, they are breathing a sigh of relief after Director James Comey told members of Congress that, after reviewing the new messages, "we have not changed our conclusions" from July. And The Times' latest Electoral College projection gives the Democratic nominee 352 votes.

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For those keeping count, that's way more than the 270 needed to win. Try it yourself.

I'm Christina Bellantoni. This is Essential Politics, and by the time you get the next edition, millions of voters will be standing in line waiting to cast votes.

Already we've seen early voting heavy over the weekend and record-long lines in Los Angeles County on Sunday.

Donald Trump was unfazed by Comey's "all-clear" announcement, saying on the campaign trail in Minnesota, "Hillary Clinton will be under investigation for a long, long time for her many crimes against our people, our democracy, likely concluding in a criminal trial."

He added, "She's protected by a rigged system. She shouldn't even be allowed to run for president, I'll tell you right now. She is the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency of the United States."

For her part, Clinton barnstormed through several states, working to secure as many early votes as possible. Her campaign has banked so many in Florida that she made her final trip to the crucial battleground state on Saturday. It was a tightly focused trip aimed at boosting turnout among the black and Latino voters she needs to win.

She also appeared with Khizr Khan, the father of a slain Muslim American soldier who has been one of Trump's most effective foils during this campaign. In Manchester, Khan said Clinton would "preserve fundamental American values."

As bright as things are looking for Democrats at the moment, Cathleen Decker writes for Monday's front page that the party faces deep schisms ahead — both ideological and generational. Her presidency could be caught between Republicans who will have less reason than ever to cooperate and a corps of Democrats reluctant to compromise, both sides playing to opposite bases.

Decker notes that sort of dilemma for the new president would be familiar historically: Presidents who succeed an incumbent of their own party repeatedly have come to grief as a result of similar crossfires. George H.W. Bush, Harry Truman and William Howard Taft all provide examples. The successor president inherits all the issues that the predecessor couldn't resolve and typically faces pressure from within the party to go further than ever in pursuit of their demands.

WEEKEND HEADLINES

Secret Service protecting Trump had a scare that disrupted his event Saturday in Reno, but it was a false alarm.

Not only are Latino voters set for record turnout this election, but a new poll Sunday shows Latino support for Trump may be lower than for any other Republican presidential candidate in more than 30 years.

America's first black president does not want to be succeeded by Trump, and he's been making a highly personal appeal to the black voters who helped send him to the Oval Office. Christi Parsons and Chris Megerian look at how President Obama has been traveling to battleground states to make the case, and whether Clinton is lagging with a key demographic.

He also mocked Trump in Florida, saying, "If somebody can't handle a Twitter account, they can't handle the nuclear codes." As he campaigns, the president is working to settle some scores with the Republicans who have tried to stifle his every move for eight years.

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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.

POLLS HOT OFF THE PRESSES

Clinton is almost certainly going to win California on Tuesday. But a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll reveals Clinton has also significantly improved her image among the state's Democrats and independents, indicating the rifts of her fractious primary battle with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have largely healed.

Melanie Mason reports that Clinton's favorability substantially jumped among younger voters and those without a party affiliation — two groups that tended to be ardent Sanders supporters.

The poll also foreshadows the brewing divisions in the Republican Party, between those aligned with Trump and those backing the GOP establishment. Among voters who viewed Trump as favorable, only 46% had a favorable opinion of Ryan. And only 47% of those with favorable views of Ryan planned to vote for Trump.

Whoever wins the White House on Tuesday is going to inherit a deeply divided and hostile electorate in California. The new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll asked likely California voters backing Clinton and Trump if they wanted their member of Congress to "work with" or "act as a check and balance" on the newly elected president if their candidate loses on Tuesday. Among Clinton supporters, 72% want their representative to act as a check and balance on Trump. Among Trump supporters, 80% wanted their member of Congress to do the same with Clinton.

COULD DEMOCRATS WIN A HOUSE SEAT THEY HAVEN'T HELD SINCE 1964?

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The last time a Democrat represented north Los Angeles County's Antelope Valley in Congress it was 1964. Republicans have had a tight grip on the area ever since, as cities such as Palmdale and Lancaster blossomed with the region's aerospace boom.

But now, because of the rise of Democrats and Latino voters in the high desert district, there's a chance that Republican winning streak could come to an end on Tuesday, Javier Panzar reports. Rep. Steve Knight is in danger of losing the 25th Congressional District seat he won two years ago. The risk is serious enough that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Obama have both weighed in on Knight's match-up with Democratic lawyer Bryan Caforio.

RACE TAKES CENTER STAGE IN LOS ANGELES HOUSE CONTEST

The battle between Compton state Sen. Isadore Hall and former Hermosa Beach Councilwoman Nanette Barragán to replace Rep. Janice Hahn has taken a sharper, racial edge as election day approaches and the intra-party contest contest tightens.

Not previously well known in political circles, Barragán has mounted a serious challenge against Hall, a 15-year veteran of Los Angeles politics. Running as a progressive outsider, she has relentlessly blasted Hall's ties with special interests in the alcohol and tobacco industries and hit him for campaign contributions he has received from petroleum interests.

In a recent interview, Barragán, who is Latina, kept the attacks going, calling the African American lawmaker "slimy." But she did not stop there, giving a statement that some say injected race into the campaign, Panzar reports.

MORE ON THE BATTLE FOR CONGRESS

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stopped by The Times on Friday for a conversation with members of the newsroom and the editorial board. She sounded a confident note about Clinton's chances ahead of a weekend full of getting-out-the-vote for the woman she says will be the first female president.

She chastised Republicans who have suggested they will pursue impeachment against a President Clinton, and took a swing at Rep. Darrell Issa, calling him "Mr. Goodbar" for trying to play up his willingness to work across the aisle now that he's in a tough race.

As for the other House races in the Golden State, Pelosi admitted the party is needing to make "cold-blooded decisions" about where to spend money, but said she is happy Republicans are spending a lot of money to  protect Rep. Jeff Denham from beekeeper Jeff Eggman and that newly competitive contests like Issa's are "keeping them busy."

"These races could go any way," she said. She added that Democrats "own the ground" because of their lopsided numbers advantage in California.

Pelosi also bragged that at the start of the cycle there were five races Democrats could lose. Four of her members in California are now totally safe, while just one, the open 24th Congressional District, is a tossup.

Sarah Wire details the signs to look for in California if House Republicans have a good night, or if Democrats are able to pull off some turnovers.

In one contest we're closely following, Clinton endorsed Emilio Huerta in his attempt to unseat Rep. David Valadao.

For Congress watchers, we've got handy guides to the states that matter most as the Democrats attempt to retake the Senate, and a close look at the most competitive congressional districts.

TIME MAY BE RUNNING OUT FOR LORETTA SANCHEZ

It's not looking good for Loretta Sanchez's U.S. Senate bid. A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that just 28% of likely California voters have a favorable impression of the Orange County congresswoman, the same number as Trump. The survey also found that 48% of likely voters supported Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, compared with 31% who backed Sanchez, a gap that has widened since early September when Sanchez launched a series of political attacks against her rival.

One bright spot for Sanchez may be in the farm-rich Central Valley where, along with California's central coast, the congresswoman was leading Harris, the poll showed. Phil Willon reports that Harris has always had trouble in the valley, which has never been kind to Democrats from the San Francisco Bay Area.

On the last Sunday before election day, Harris and Sanchez crisscrossed Southern California visiting some familiar spots to urge supporters to go the polls. Harris spent the morning dropping by some of central Los Angeles' most popular black churches, telling parishioners that the nation was at a pivotal moment and that now was the time to make their voices heard.

Sanchez spent the morning at a get-out-the-vote rally in Long Beach's Cambodia Town with Reps. Alan Lowenthal and Hahn, reminding the crowd of the work that the three members of Congress had done to help Cambodian immigrants and to urge the Cambodian government to hold free and fair elections.

For up-to-the-minute news on the California campaigns, keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed.

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THE NEXT ATTORNEY GENERAL?

If Harris does win, the political drama in California isn't going to end. Gov. Jerry Brown will need to select her replacement as attorney general, one of the most powerful positions in state government. Brown's office is mum on what he might be looking for in the state's next top lawyer, but a Democratic consultant believes the governor will want a caretaker instead of a political upstart to fill out the final two years of Harris' term, Liam Dillon reports.

WHERE WILL THE LEGISLATURE'S 'MOD SQUAD' BE AFTER TUESDAY?

As Tuesday's election nears, the increasingly powerful "mod caucus" -- the informal name for the informal group of business-aligned Democrats in the Legislature, is hoping to bolster its ranks with like-minded newcomers. Business interests have also poured millions of dollars into independent expenditure committees backing centrist Democrats this cycle, many of them in intra-party battles against fellow Democrats.

Christine Mai-Duc reports that Tuesday's election results could bolster the ranks of the group, which suffered some setbacks in 2016 with the passage of a $15 minimum wage, overtime protections for farmworkers, and an extension of California's greenhouse gas emissions targets, all largely opposed by the business community. "We do have high hopes," said Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), co-chair of the moderate caucus. "The demise of the mods has been greatly exaggerated."

WE READ IT SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO

Proposition 64, the measure that would legalize recreational marijuana in California, is 66 pages. Patrick McGreevy crafted a cheat sheet of the high points as you consider your vote.

NEWS ON THE PROPOSITIONS

Pelosi also said Friday she plans to vote for Proposition 64, making her one of a small number of high-level politicians to support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

"I will vote for it, but I have not made a public statement about it until right this very second," Pelosi said when asked about the measure.

(Clinton, by the way, won't say how she feels about the idea, which also is on the ballot in swing-state Nevada.)

Jazmine Ulloa examines how for 10 years, the death penalty system has been on pause in California, as the state has sought to develop new lethal injection protocols for killing prisoners. Its latest proposal is undergoing final review after the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation received roughly 167,000 comments overt the last year during a public vetting process.

Now its fate is hanging at the ballot box. If voters pass Proposition 66, which intends to expedite executions, prison officials would be exempted from the current regulation process — a move that supporters say would remove unneeded layers of bureaucracy but opponents counter would harm transparency. If voters instead approve Proposition 62, which replaces executions with life sentences, the whole issue is moot.

Still, defeat is likely for the two dueling death penalty propositions, according to the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. That is mainly because California voters have strong core beliefs about capital punishment that remain unswayed by the recent national debate over criminal justice reform, pollsters and analysts said.

Proposition 57, the governor's sweeping effort to remake prison parole rules, is supported by 57% of likely voters in the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

The latest Field-IGS Poll shows Proposition 61 virtually tied, with 47% in support, 47% against and 6% undecided. That's a big change from September, when the poll showed the measure — which seeks to limit the price state agencies pay for prescription drugs — ahead 50%-16%.

ONE LAST PITCH

George Skelton uses his column to offer four final takeaways on bonds for big projects, pot and tobacco, prescription drugs and the presidential race.

POLITICAL ROAD MAP: THE HALFWAY MARK FOR CALIFORNIA'S DISTRICT LINES

Unlike so many other states, there have been few complaints about partisan tinkering with the political maps drawn in California five years ago. Voters handed over the line-drawing to a citizens panel, a big change from politicians crafting legislative and congressional districts to their favor.

And as John Myers writes in this week's column, no decision of that panel offered a stronger statement than its unanimous vote to not view political party registration during the drafting of the maps.

"We wanted to make a statement," said Jodie Filkins Webber, a GOP member of the commission.

PODCAST: 2016 ENDS, 2018 BEGINS

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If our latest polls are any guide, Californians are about to make some big changes on crime and public safety issues ranging from pot to prison parole. And this week's California Politics Podcast takes a closer look at where support is strongest, and why.

Myers also leads a discussion on how the 2018 gubernatorial race got a jolt of energy this past week, with a former state schools chief confirming that she plans to throw her own hat into the ring in the race to succeed Brown as governor.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

-- Brown campaigned in Colorado for Clinton over the weekend.

-- Why has Sanders become the unofficial face of the Yes on Proposition 61 campaign? Because in California, he's more popular than Obama, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

-- State ethics investigators are recommending $63,000 in fines against state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) and others for several campaign finance violations involving the 2012 election.

-- Tim Kaine's college roommate makes the case for the vice presidential nominee.

-- In a segment on HBO's "Vice News Tonight," California billionaire and political donor Tom Steyer avoided saying whether he planned to run for governor. "I will continue to work on the stuff that I care most about," he told Vice when asked about a potential gubernatorial bid. "The question will be how can I do it in the way that has the most impact."

-- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie again said Friday that he had no knowledge of bridge lane closures as political retribution. His former employees, who were convicted Friday, said in court that he knew about the scheme while in was happening.

-- Speaker Paul Ryan is officially back on the Trump Train.

LOGISTICS

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