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Newsletter: Essential Politics: You’re the first to see California’s battleground races

Essential Politics
(LAT)

California’s election season in 2018 could be one for the record books — not only a wide-open race for governor, but also an unprecedented U.S. Senate race and fascinating statewide contests.

And then, there’s the historic battle for some of the state’s seats in the House of Representatives.

YOU GET IT FIRST: TWO OPEN SEATS TOP OUR LIST

Essential Politics subscribers today are the first to see our new rankings of the most competitive congressional races in California. These 14 contests are going to be key to the Democratic effort to reclaim control of the House in the fall midterms.

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Here’s the bottom line: The free-for-all open-seat races in California’s 39th and 49th Congressional Districts are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, and Republican Rep. Steve Knight is now the most vulnerable incumbent.

Also moving up on the list is Orange County Rep. Mimi Walters. The two retirements in neighboring districts allow Democrats to concentrate more money against Walters, because the open seats could be an easier lift.

For those who remember last fall’s launch of the race tracker, it debuted with 13 contests. Democrats, feeling ambitious, have added Rep. Tom McClintock, in a strongly Republican Northern California district, to the list of seats they believe have the potential to flip. He joins our list at No. 10.

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See the rankings.

THE SHUTDOWN AFTERMATH

Following President Trump’s signing on Monday of the bill that temporarily reopened the federal government, there are significant questions about what comes next — ones of both style and substance.

Key to that is the fate of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Democrats failed to get extended in the weekend battle.

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For the president, though, there’s a sense that his inconsistencies on what to do about Dreamers helped fuel the first government shutdown in five years.

And then there’s the broader immigration question: For years, Congress for years has been unable to agree on a comprehensive reform plan. So is there any chance that 2018 will be different?

NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND

-- Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions was interviewed by the special counsel’s office as the Russia investigation inches deeper into Trump’s administration.

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-- The White House’s branding of the “Schumer Shutdown” was picked up by Twitter accounts linked to Russia, accounts that analysts say were spreading the same message.

-- Vice President Mike Pence’s 48-hour visit to Israel stumbled into a public storm Tuesday when female reporters covering his final stop at Jerusalem’s Western Wall were penned behind four rows of their male colleagues.

-- Speaking of Pence, the Indiana Republican has honed a unique set of survival skills for serving under a mercurial and vindictive president: Heap double scoops of praise on Trump and his agenda, and be prepared to absorb the uncomfortable criticism of U.S. allies.

-- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday condemned a reported chlorine-gas attack by Syrian government forces on civilians near Damascus and put the blame squarely on Russia.

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-- The Senate on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to confirm Jerome H. Powell to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, allowing him to take over when Janet L. Yellen‘s term expires early next month.

-- Trump doesn’t have any plan for traveling to San Diego to see border wall prototypes on his schedule “as of now.”

HOT TAKES FROM THE USC/LAT POLL

Watch a discussion about our latest national poll showing Democrats with an 11-point advantage heading into the midterms.

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PREPARING FOR THE NEXT NATURAL DISASTER

With devastating wildfires and mudslides spanning the state, California state lawmakers are proposing a host of new bills designed to aid victims.

A package of bills introduced in Sacramento deals with insurance coverage, emergency alert systems and penalties for those at fault among other policy changes. They come in the wake of a budget request by Gov. Jerry Brown two weeks ago for a lot more money to boost state firefighting operations.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

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-- The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday appointed Mark Farrell to serve as interim mayor until a citywide election in June. Farrell’s appointment came after the board voted down its president, London Breed, who had been serving as acting mayor following Ed Lee’s death in December.

-- University of California regents face a showdown with Brown as they vote Wednesday on a proposed 2.7% increase in tuition and student services fees for next year. Brown opposes a hike, but the UC board chair says more money is needed to keep up the system’s vaunted quality.

-- Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blasted the president’s plan to increase offshore drilling, saying on Monday that Trump should drill in the waters off his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida rather than California.

-- Republican gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen called on the Trump administration to prosecute state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra over his immigration policy.

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-- New, higher cost estimates for California’s high-speed rail project have led to a bipartisan request for state auditors to take another look.

-- Two state legislative Democrats have introduced a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to follow new standards when asking eyewitnesses to identify criminal suspects from live or photo lineups. Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) say the improved guidelines will reduce the chances for wrongful convictions and prevent the guilty from walking free.

-- A Los Angeles-area lawmaker wants to block major paint companies from putting a measure on the November ballot that would nullify a court judgment that require them to pay for lead paint clean up.

-- California GOP House members wrote an op-ed in the Orange County Register over the weekend, fighting back against Democrats’ attacks on the new tax bill as a giveaway to the wealthy.

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-- Gil Cisneros, a Democrat running for Rep. Ed Royce’s Orange County seat, continues to consolidate Latino support for his bid. His latest endorsement comes from Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard.

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

You can keep up with breaking news on our politics page throughout the day. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

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john.myers@latimes.com

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Follow me on Twitter at @johnmyers and listen to the weekly California Politics Podcast


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