Newsletter: Things look great for Democrats — until they consider California’s top-two primary

Essential Politics

We now have the full picture of how the California primary will appear 77 days from now. The race for governor has 28 candidates.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein will need to worry about outgoing Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, and not one of the unknown GOP candidates on the ballot.

And despite high hopes, Democrats may see their chances evaporate in two of the contests where they were poised to capture Republican territory.

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-- Here are five things to know about the crucial California House races.

-- In the 39th and 49th congressional districts, there are 36 candidates who filed to be on the ballot, continuing another trend of high interest in the midterm election. The list doesn’t include Phil Janowicz, who dropped out of the race to replace Rep. Ed Royce hours before the deadline, citing concern over the top-two primary shutting Democrats out of the general election.

-- In another race that has Democrats worried about a shutout, three top congressional Democrats who represent Orange County split with the state party, endorsing Harley Rouda instead of Hans Keirstead, who got the California Democratic Party nod.

-- Antelope Valley Democrats got to hear from a trio of candidates seeking to oust GOP Rep. Steve Knight at a debate last week. To the degree there was a difference between Bryan Caforio, Katie Hill and Jess Phoenix, it was a rhetorical one. Caforio came out swinging at the Trump administration, Phoenix brought a performer’s flair, and Hill struck a more measured tone.

-- Plus, none of the top three candidates would commit to backing Pelosi to stay on as Democratic leader.


Why are Democrats worried? That would be California’s top-two primary system, approved by voters in 2010 as backers said it would force political moderation.

As John Myers explains, the California primary that’s now less than three months away promises to be the system’s most important test, and possibly its most controversial. Although Democrats have largely consolidated their power behind just a few formidable candidates in statewide contests, local races with a multitude of candidates could allow Republicans to quell the anti-Trump fervor in at least four congressional districts that Democrats otherwise are poised to capture.

We’ll be tracking it all this primary season via our Essential Politics news feed on California politics. Make sure to sign up for breaking news alerts to be the first to know what’s happening.


Throughout the governor’s race, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has positioned himself as a champion of the poor and minorities who have been left behind in the economic recovery. But over the course of his career, he has benefited personally and politically from industries that critics argue prey upon these communities, Seema Mehta reports.


If you thought the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the disputed account over how it was done would be the most interesting story out of the Trump White House at the close of the week, well, keep reading.

Andrew McCabe, who had been the No. 2 at the FBI, was fired just before his retirement.

The Associated Press reported that McCabe, like ousted director James B. Comey, kept personal memos of his conversations with President Trump.

Sunday, the president expressed doubts concerning whether McCabe had indeed documented details about their conversations. Trump tweeted that McCabe “never took notes when he was with me” and added that the memos were probably written at a later date “to help his own agenda.”

“Can we call them Fake Memos?” the president asked.

It’s the third week in a row we’ve needed to update our handy chart of everyone who has left the Trump administration.

It’s time to end the Russia investigation, one of the president’s personal lawyers said Saturday.

Trump is seeking more than $20 million in damages from Stormy Daniels, according to court papers filed Friday by his attorneys. The filings say the porn actress has breached her confidentiality agreement at least 20 times.

Republicans caught a break in the Nevada Senate race.

Trump to call for the death penalty for some opioid dealers, but the White House won’t say how it would be applied.

Longtime Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) died last week at 88.

Get the latest about what’s happening in the nation’s capital on Essential Washington.


The debate over single-payer healthcare consumed the state Capitol for much of the last year. Now a coalition of labor unions, health advocates and immigrant groups are aiming to redirect the focus to a patchwork of policies meant to build on the Affordable Care Act.

Melanie Mason reports their top priorities include expanding Medi-Cal to adults who are in the country illegally and boosting subsidies to those purchasing insurance in the Covered California marketplace. Supporters say such steps could lay the groundwork for single-payer in the future.


The Trump administration is pushing forward with a colossal public works project in Northern California — heightening the towering Shasta Dam to the equivalent of nearly two stories.

The problem is that California is dead set against the plan, and state law prohibits the 602-foot New Deal-era structure from getting any taller.

Sarah D. Wire and Evan Halper detail what’s in the plan, which promises a big payoff for water interests with close ties to the administration and has the backing of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.


As lawmakers in Sacramento begin work on a new California budget, they’re discovering that as much as $1 billion in extra spending will be required if they embrace Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for stashing away surplus tax dollars.

That spending, writes John Myers in his Sunday column, is in the fine print in Proposition 2, the 2014 “rainy-day fund” approved by voters. The Legislature’s analysts say there’s an alternative that could save more — if lawmakers are willing to challenge the governor.


-- Mark Z. Barabak takes a look at Libby Schaaf, from a place where there is zero danger of seeming too anti-Trump in a city where he received less than 5% of the vote, and how she has positioned herself for even grander designs, if so inclined.

-- The chairman of the California Democratic Party has asked the secretary of state to reject Tony Mendoza’s ballot designation as “state senator,” saying it is misleading because Mendoza resigned from the Senate last month under threat of expulsion over sexual harassment allegations.

-- Democratic lawmakers unveiled details of a plan to add major state subsidies for new affordable housing and infrastructure.

-- Alarmed that the fledgling legal marijuana industry is being undercut by the black market, California considers lower taxes on pot for three years to allow licensed sellers to get on their feet.

-- California’s antiabortion pregnancy centers want the Supreme Court to overturn the state notice law.

-- In defiance of Trump, California became a “sanctuary state.” This Orange County city may want out.


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