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Essential Politics: Debating debates and the Trump effect: It's crunch time for the midterms

Essential Politics: Debating debates and the Trump effect: It's crunch time for the midterms
Essential Politics (LAT)

Twenty-two days can seem like an eternity when waiting for an election that’s been talked about for the better part of a year.

The nation awaits the effect of President Trump on control of Congress, California awaits the selection of a new governor, and voters — actually, voters don’t have to wait at all. Ballots are now arriving in the mail, even as important events have yet to play out.

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THE CALIFORNIA DEBATES (IF THEY CAN BE CALLED THAT)

One of those will happen on Wednesday when the two candidates for U.S. Senate will appear together in San Francisco. But is it a debate between Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her opponent, fellow Democrat Kevin de León, a member of the state Senate?

Simply put, the two candidates don’t see eye to eye on what to call the conversation to be hosted by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

It’s hard to imagine many voters will get a glimpse of the event — held at lunchtime and only available through a livestream on the organization’s website. Then there’s the history: Feinstein hasn’t debated any opponent for 18 years, snubbing the last two challengers.

Meanwhile, the one and only debate between the candidates for governor was a quiet affair on public radio. Republican John Cox and Democrat Gavin Newsom sparred for an hour last week, mostly about their personal histories and political backstories. The last time a race for governor saw such a low-key face-off was 2002, when incumbent Gov. Gray Davis would agree only to a lunchtime debate on a Monday with his GOP challenger, Bill Simon.

There are certainly those who see the traditional political debate as little more than an anachronism these days. Still, it’s somewhat striking that the two most prominent posts in the state with more voters than anywhere else in America will be filled with hardly a glimpse of how the candidates handle themselves in a high-stakes, widely televised one-on-one event.

DECISION CALIFORNIA: OF MONEY AND MCCARTHY

-- A major Republican Party funding group has passed over Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters in its opening round of broadcast television advertising across Southern California.

-- A company owned by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s in-laws won more than $7 million in no-bid and other federal contracts based on a dubious claim of Native American identity by McCarthy’s brother-in-law, a Times investigation has found.

THE TRUMP REFERENDUM

On the national front, the stakes for the president are likely to be more about personality than policy.

As Mark Z. Barabak writes, Trump has turned the midterm election into a very personal referendum. In Nevada, which has rebounded smartly from the Great Recession, the economic recovery is a surprising nonissue, in part because not everyone is feeling the effects.

It’s also worth noting how rarely the nation’s 45th president has held rallies in America’s biggest cities. Of 34 cities where Trump has held rallies since taking office, only three are among the country’s 30 most populated: Phoenix, Las Vegas and Nashville. Charting his stops yields a map that reflects his base, mostly red states and rural communities — a base that he hasn’t tried to expand upon.​

​​​​​​NATIONAL LIGHTNING ROUND

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-- The White House is actively considering plans that could again separate parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border, hoping to reverse soaring numbers of families attempting to cross illegally into the United States.

-- Trump faces growing pressure from congressional allies and Western partners to vigorously seek answers from Saudi Arabia over the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, even as the kingdom on Sunday harshly threatened anyone seeking to punish its ruling royals over his disappearance and reported death.

-- In an interview with CBS News' "60 Minutes" that aired on Sunday, the president said he is unsure whether Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will leave the administration and described him as "sort of a Democrat," amid reports of friction between the two.

-- The release of an American pastor is likely to ease tensions with Turkey — and could give Trump a win before the midterm elections.

GAS TAXES, PROPERTY TAXES, AND THE DO-NOTHING PROPOSAL: CALIFORNIA’S PROPOSITIONS

In what has become California’s marquee ballot measure fight this fall, supporters and opponents of repealing the state’s new gas taxes are trading charges and countercharges about the proposal, Proposition 6.

The pro-Proposition 6 campaign is citing six-figure salaries for thousands of government transportation workers as a reason why California voters should approve the initiative to repeal fuel-tax and vehicle-fee increases enacted last year.

In Proposition 5, voters are being asked to expand property tax breaks for older home buyers. But some analyses point out it could shortchange schools and cities.

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And in my Sunday politics column, I wrote on the one measure that would do nothing if enacted. Proposition 7 wants to know how you feel about making daylight saving time year-round, but voters can’t actually make that change happen.

On two other ballot measures — to expand rent control and limit profits for dialysis clinics — the California Republican Party spent $5.8 million after accepting a similar amount of money from business interests.

NEXT CALIFORNIA: THE FUTURE OF WORK

Over the past month, Melanie Mason has taken an in-depth look at challenges California’s next governor faces in leading the state. Her series concludes with how millions of California workers could be affected by automation. As technology transforms the nature of work in California, how do people most at risk find their way to new jobs?

Cox and Newsom, as they’ve done in prior installments, responded to The Times’ series with answers on how they’d tackle the issue.

And we’ve gotten great feedback from voters on the issues raised by the series.

Finally, a reminder to catch the earlier stories, too, on challenges to the state’s tax structure, the need to prepare for natural disasters and the tough choices ahead as the state’s population gets older.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- Extreme fire weather conditions prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to shut off power in parts of more than a dozen Northern California counties, an effort to reduce the risk of wildfires sparked by utility lines that break during extreme winds.

-- An attorney for Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday asked the state Supreme Court to recommend whether former state Sen. Rod Wright should be pardoned for his felony convictions in 2014 on charges of voter fraud and perjury for lying about living in his district.

-- On homelessness, California has to “have a governor that is actually focused on these issues, which has not been the case for decades in this state,” Lt. Gov. Newsom said last week. “Governors have not campaigned on homelessness, governors haven’t talked about homelessness.”

-- The California Department of Motor Vehicles has decided to implement new quality control on its voter registration process following Monday’s revelation of as many as 1,500 non-citizens being wrongly registered to vote.

-- Eliminating California’s inheritance tax break for vacation houses and rental property and restricting its use for primary homes could raise $2 billion a year in property taxes over time, according to a new analysis.

-- Los Angeles voters will decide next month whether to nudge along the budding movement to create a public bank owned by the city, by altering the City Charter to allow L.A. to create a “purely commercial” enterprise.

LOGISTICS

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