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California's primary election starts now

California's primary election starts now
Essential Politics (Los Angeles Times)

The election isn't until June 5, but voting is starting in California. Ballots are going out now, and we know Californians will mail them in at a rapid clip over the next several weeks.

That means your mailbox will be crammed with more fliers, and the airwaves and internet will be clogged with ads.

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It also makes Tuesday's gubernatorial debate moderated by NBC's Chuck Todd a critical moment for the candidates on stage to make their pitch, and the best opportunity to get attention now that voters are getting more engaged.

We will, of course, be covering the debate live in the moment and with deep analysis when it concludes. You can find all of that here.

REPUBLICANS CHOOSE TO MAKE NO CHOICE

At this weekend's California Republican Party convention in San Diego, neither of the top GOP candidates for governor could muster enough support to win the party's endorsement. Wealthy Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox received 55.3% of the vote from the GOP delegates, short of the 60% required for the party nod. Huntington Beach Assemblyman Travis Allen received 40.5%.

With no endorsed candidate for governor, the party runs the risk of a repeat of the 2016 U.S. Senate contest, which featured a Democrat-on-Democrat battle in the general election. The same is likely to happen in the Senate race this year. The stakes are even higher this time around. Not having a candidate at the top of the ticket could dampen Republican voter turnout in November, which is critical to the party holding onto several congressional seats key to the GOP retaining control of Congress, report Seema Mehta and Phil Willon.

While trying to woo delegates during the three-day affair, the Cox and Travis campaigns were a little chippy but the candidates mostly refrained from criticizing each other during their big speeches to hundreds of delegates on Saturday. That wasn't a coincidence. State GOP Chairman Jim Brulte threatened to blast an airhorn if any candidates started attacking a Republican rival. Ripping the Democrats was permitted, though.

Although hanging on to more than half a dozen vulnerable House seats is arguably the most important thing facing California Republicans this year, there wasn't much talk about it at the convention. There was a lot of discussion about the effort to repeal the gas tax increase.

That's one reason House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Majority Whip Steve Scalise have donated to the initiative to get a repeal on the ballot.

Rep. Mimi Walters of Irvine, the only vulnerable GOP House incumbent to show up at the convention, painted a particularly dire picture about the tough fight ahead for her and others.

The keynote speaker at the convention, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, took a jab at Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as she addressed the delegates Saturday night.

"It's odd that I'm coming out to California from Iowa, because what we've seen recently is a lot of folks from California coming to Iowa," she told several hundred delegates and guests gathered in San Diego.

Ernst noted that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco would be fundraising with Iowa Democrats on Sunday, and that Garcetti recently visited the state as he ponders launching a presidential bid.

Saturday morning, the convention had its own kerfuffle when an anti-Semitic GOP Senate candidate was kicked out. One witness said he was dragging and kicking an Israeli flag while being escorted out.

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CHIANG'S SHOWDOWN WITH SCHWARZENEGGER

Ten years ago, John Chiang, then the state controller, squared off against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in refusing to carry out an order to slash state worker pay. Now, the episode has become a selling point in his campaign for governor.

Melanie Mason took a deeper look at the moment that Chiang says illustrated his advocacy for the little guy and critics say showed his fealty to public employee unions. It's the first in a series of examinations of key moments for some candidates.

Keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed on California politics for the latest and make sure to sign up for breaking news alerts.

CONGRESSMAN ACCUSED OF MOLESTATION

San Fernando Rep. Tony Cardenas confirmed Thursday that he is the unidentified elected official in a lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles alleging sexual molestation of a teenage girl in 2007, but he vehemently denied the allegations.

Pelosi on Saturday called for the House Ethics Committee to investigate the matter and said the Democratic congressman would cooperate.

Cardenas is one of the highest-ranking Latino members of Congress and holds a low-level position in the House leadership. He has been contacting fellow members of Congress in recent days to assert his innocence in connection with the lawsuit.

Meanwhile in Sacramento last week, a former aide to a California legislator sued the state Senate, saying she was discriminated and retaliated against after alleging sexual assault.

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FACT-CHECKING NEWSOM'S NRA AD

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, front-runner in the race to succeed termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown, has run a TV ad claiming he was "the first to take on the National Rifle Assn. and win." But he's hardly the first California politician to do so, George Skelton writes in his Monday column.

FOR LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, SO MANY CANDIDATES FOR SO FEW OFFICIAL DUTIES

California Republicans endorsed San Marino businessman Cole Harris this weekend as their pick for lieutenant governor. But Harris and the 10 other candidates running for the job face something even more daunting than winning: making the job matter.

In his Sunday column, John Myers takes a look at just how few duties the lieutenant governor has — with the most important, breaking a tie in the state Senate, last happening in 1996. This year features a record number of candidates, some who are overpromising on what they'll do if elected.

NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND

President Trump says his nominee to be CIA director, Gina Haspel, has "come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists."

— Trump spoke at the NRA convention Friday, telling the crowd, "Your 2nd Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never, ever be under siege as long as I am your president."

— Times photographer Jay Clendenin took portraits of convention attendees.

— As our reporter writes from Paris, Trump was accused of showing "shameful" disrespect for the victims of a 2015 series of terrorist attacks by suggesting the bloodshed, which left more than 130 dead, might have been prevented if the French carried guns.

— In the latest episode of stirring the pot, Rudy Giuliani said Sunday that the president would not "have to" respond to a subpoena in the special counsel's wide-ranging Russia probe. Giuliani, who joined the president's legal team two weeks ago, also said that if Trump does agree to be questioned, he might invoke his 5th Amendment right to guard against self-incrimination.

Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, is urgently searching out ways to get tech invested in the so-called flyover states and vice versa. Evan Halper traveled with the Democratic congressman to West Virginia to see him in action.

Stormy Daniels made a surprise cameo on "Saturday Night Live."

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

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions will be the on the border Monday just as the Department of Homeland Security announces tougher policy on border crossings and family separation.

— This week's California Politics Podcast offers a preview of Tuesday's debate in the governor's race with moderator Chuck Todd, as well as the latest TV ad from Newsom.

— Three major national paint companies are nearing qualification of their ballot measure that would eliminate their legal liability to clean up lead paint. A group of lawmakers are asking them to back down on some of their claims.

— Newly introduced legislation is California's second attempt to develop a system for taxpayers to avoid part of Trump's tax overhaul.

— A surveillance bill could push other cities and counties to follow Oakland police tech policies.

— Vice News goes deep behind the scenes Monday night with a look at Democrat Katie Hill's congressional campaign in California's 25th district. She's aiming to make the November election and unseat Republican Rep. Steve Knight. But can she defeat Bryan Caforio, the Democrat who won the primary in 2016? The episode airs Monday.

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