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Essential Politics: California GOP confronts presidential rhetoric

Welcome to Essential Politics, a new newsletter from the Los Angeles Times. I'm Christina Bellantoni, assistant managing editor for politics and your host today.

As national Republicans contemplate some fresh competition for Donald Trump in Carly Fiorina’s surging candidacy, the California GOP is searching for answers of its own.

Party activists gathered in Anaheim over the weekend openly worried about the rhetoric coming from the presidential race, especially toward immigrants. Thanks to its size and diversity, California underscores the national struggle for the soul of the Republican Party, and these questions are nothing new here.

Consider this Mark Z. Barabak gem from 1999, with then-state Sen. Jim Brulte so concerned about changing demographics in California and the GOP losing non-white voters that he announced he would contribute in party primaries only to women and minority candidates.

Fast forward to this weekend, when the convention (led by Brulte as party chairman) overwhelmingly adopted language to the party platform to soften rhetoric on immigration.

Chris Megerian, reporting with our team from Anaheim all weekend, details the platform:

The changes say Republicans "hold diverse views" on "what to do with the millions of people who are currently here illegally." ...

Although the new language emphasizes opposition to "amnesty," it removes the statement that "allowing illegal immigrants to remain in California undermines respect for the law."

Megerian reported that Marcelino Valdez, a Latino party official from Fresno, said the shift is in direct response to Trump. Valdez said it's important to use "language that is more appealing to California's diverse electorate."

Harmeet Dhillon, the party’s vice chairperson, said the push for the change came from members of the party, not the leadership. The party's platform also added support for laws that prohibit discrimination in employment and housing based on “sexual orientation” — not the kind of thing most Republican parties are addressing. The party left unchanged its opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion and new taxes.

(Republicans also opted to support a ballot measure that would overturn the ban on plastic grocery bags.)

As Cathleen Decker found in her Sunday column, despite lopsided numbers in California, state Republicans have been notching minor electoral victories, which still count even though they aren’t winning the big-ticket prizes. How will they do facing the long odds in the race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer? Reporter Phil Willon took a look at the GOP’s contenders for the seat, and found it might be difficult without unity around a single candidate.

Decker writes Monday that the toned-down language might be more soothing to California voters in isolation, but presidential candidates haven’t exactly gotten the message.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- Melanie Mason had a big scoop out Saturday morning: Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins is going to challenge fellow Democratic state Sen. Marty Block, an almost unheard-of intra-party tussle that already has tensions fraying.

-- Barbara Boxer went after her onetime rival Fiorina in an interview with Seema Mehta.

-- “I don't think he really wants it that bad. … It's like he's just going through the motions.” That was retired insurance agent John O. Green of La Mesa, telling Michael Finnegan his views of Jeb Bush after the second Republican debate. Finnegan spoke with voters surveyed in on the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll to see how the debate reshaped their opinions, and found support for Trump is wavering.

-- See the list of celebrities for Bernie Sanders.

-- A new L.A. city councilman wants to ban donations from businesses and unions to political candidates.

-- A state panel outlawed so called “dark money” in campaigns.

-- There’s a science to the politics in your Twitter feed.

-- If you’re not debate-coveraged out, here is a dispatch from the Los Angeles Times watch party downtown. And here is a local CBS station’s report on our event.

-- Finally, Chris Matthews has some thoughts about urinals at the GOP debate.

LOGISTICS

As a reminder, Monday through Thursday, we’ll send a morning email from Los Angeles. Fridays, you’ll get an afternoon note with the week’s best stories that provide fresh insight on the presidential campaign and other great long reads to take you into the weekend from Washington bureau chief David Lauter. Read his debut edition here and learn more about the newsletter here.

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