Newsletter: Essential Politics: So many Democrats running for president, so many competitors and hurdles to clear

Essential Politics

Fifteen Democrats woke up this morning, looked in the mirror and were probably more convinced than ever that they’ve got what it takes to beat President Trump.

That’s the old saying about a lot of politicians who might dream of the Oval Office, but these men and women are the ones who have formally launched presidential campaigns — with money, momentum and timing all playing key factors in what comes next.

The latest entrant is a certain guy from the Lone Star State.

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Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke officially entered the 2020 presidential race on Saturday, making good on weeks of buzz and speculation three rallies in his home state of Texas.

And it wasn’t his positions on the issues that he used to set himself apart from the others — rather, the idea that he would be the kind of president who could unify a bitterly divided nation.

“Whatever our differences, wherever you live, whoever you love, to whomever you pray, whoever you voted for in the last election, that cannot define us,” O’Rourke said in Houston. “Before we are anything, we are Americans first.”


For two of his competitors, the presidential contest may hinge on what it means to be a black candidate after former President Barack Obama.

In tone and tenor, California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker have embraced their black identities and followers in ways unprecedented for mainstream presidential hopefuls.

“After Barack Obama, they are facing voters that want more than symbols when it comes to race,” said Vincent Hutchings, a political science and African American studies professor at the University of Michigan.

Booker and Harris were speakers at a high-profile gay rights gala in Los Angeles on Saturday — with each offering a few specific jabs at Trump when it comes to LGBTQ rights.


Former Vice President Joe Biden isn’t one of the 15 declared candidates but found himself over the last few days the subject of questions and some criticism over what he says are his well-known “expressions of affection.”

Biden issued a statement Sunday in the wake of allegations by a former Nevada state legislator that he kissed the back of her head and placed his hands on her shoulders as the two of them waited to take the stage at a Las Vegas rally in 2014.

Biden said he doesn’t believe he ever acted inappropriately in his “many years on the campaign trail and in public life” but would listen carefully to those who feel otherwise.

“I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear,” he said in the written statement. “But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”


-- The president plans to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to three Central American countries in retaliation for what he called their lack of help in reducing the flow of migrants to the U.S. border.

-- He also signed a new order granting permission for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, marking the White House’s latest effort to jump-start one of the most controversial infrastructure proposals in recent U.S. history.

-- A U.S. judge in Alaska says Trump exceeded his authority when he reversed a ban on offshore drilling in vast parts of the Arctic Ocean and dozens of canyons in the Atlantic Ocean.

-- Attorneys for Maria Butina and U.S. prosecutors have jointly asked a federal judge to order the gun rights activist deported to her native Russia after she is sentenced on April 26.


California drivers have been opening their wallets a little wider for more than a year when they pull up to the pump, after lawmakers raised fuel taxes (along with imposing a new vehicle fee) to pay for overdue road and highway repairs.

One new snapshot, though, shows how hard that’s going to be — the result of years of too-low spending: $121 million in new spending on bridge repairs and yet the number of spans in “poor” condition continues to rise.

Caltrans officials blame the worsening numbers on a lag in inspections — which take place every two to four years — as well as the aging of the state’s bridges and the fact that bridge repair projects can take three to five years to complete.


-- Outraged by widespread allegations of cheating in the college admissions process, California lawmakers have proposed a package of bills aimed at closing loopholes that officials said gave the children of wealthy parents a side door into elite universities.

-- A former state government administrator allegedly engaged in “gross misconduct” by using her position to hire and promote her daughter, according to a state auditor’s report. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other elected officials have questioned the continued service of the ex-director on the state’s Fraud Assessment Commission.

-- A female employee of the California Democratic Party who alleged a workplace culture of harassment, retaliation and discrimination is withdrawing from a lawsuit she filed against the organization and its former chairman.

-- California auditors say a combination of technology and staffing problems is the root cause of the extremely long wait times at dozens of DMV offices last year. By week’s end, the Newsom administration was proposing help by way of a $168-million boost in DMV spending.

-- Monday marks one year from national Census Day and the stakes are huge in California when it comes to getting an accurate count. A significant number of the state’s residents are in hard-to-count places.

-- California voters favor sentencing murderers to life in prison rather than the death penalty by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, according to a new poll after Newsom’s moratorium on California death row executions.

-- Meanwhile, the governor has sought to block parole releases of murderers and serious offenders at a rate much higher than former Gov. Jerry Brown.

-- And Newsom has announced his first international trip as governor: He’ll travel to El Salvador this month in hopes of shining a light on the Central American migration crisis.

-- “Unethical physicians” have helped some families skirt California’s vaccination law, says a legislator whose new bill would require the state to vet every medical exemption to childhood vaccinations written by a doctor.

-- The California Employment Development Department is putting people collecting unemployment, disability or parental leave benefits at risk for identity theft by mailing millions of documents containing full Social Security numbers, according to a state audit.

-- Trump’s plan to pull funding from military construction projects to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border could delay more than $139 million in critical infrastructure funding for U.S. Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach in Orange County.


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