Good afternoon. I’m Washington bureau chief David Lauter. Welcome to a special Wednesday afternoon edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, where we’ll take a look at an abbreviated week on the campaign trail and some stories that went beyond the headlines to provide special insight.
Taken together, the two candidate debates last week made clear, as I wrote in an analysis of the state of the race, that the Democratic contest is winding down, even as the GOP brawl intensifies. It’s not that Bernie Sanders is about to give up — he has lots of money and fervent supporters and every reason to continue his campaign for a while. But in three consecutive debates, Sanders has passed up chances to go on the attack against Hillary Clinton. He would need to change the trajectory of the race in order to actually beat Clinton, and he shows no signs of doing so.
One issue that both Clinton and Sanders have talked about, along with several candidates on the Republican side, is drug addiction. As Seema Mehta reported, addiction is that rare case in which the campaign works the way textbooks used to say it should — with candidates being exposed to important issues as they travel the country meeting with voters.
More often, candidates have little time for anything other than the daily battle to control the news cycle with their pre-planned message. Over on the Republican side, that battle is just now being joined for real.
Republican establishment figures have finally absorbed the fact that Donald Trump really could win the party’s nomination. Indeed, there’s evidence that at least some polls may actually underestimate Trump’s support.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush likes to call Trump the "chaos candidate," but as Michael Finnegan reports in a close look at Trump’s campaign style, it’s a "tightly controlled chaos" that is "part of a meticulously calculated strategy by a surprisingly disciplined front-runner."
In Iowa, Trump is currently on track to lose to Sen. Ted Cruz, who has built a powerful operation in the state and has the support of a large share of evangelical Christian voters. Cruz is almost as unpopular within the GOP establishment as Trump. That means the fight to emerge as the establishment opponent to Trump has focused on New Hampshire. There, three candidates — Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — are in a cage match that only one can probably survive, as Mark Barabak and Mehta report.
It will make for an intense five weeks once the campaigns return from a brief holiday slow period. Speaking of the holidays, I’ll return with more on the presidential campaign after the New Year. My colleague Christina Bellantoni will be back with the regular Essential Politics newsletter next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Happy holidays to all.
WHAT WE'RE READING
— Trump’s candidacy represents a class revolt within the GOP, David Frum, a former Bush administration speechwriter, writes in a fascinating piece in the Atlantic. Republican elites, Frum argues, have been in denial about the depth of the division between the blue-collar voters they depend on and the business leaders and executives who fund most GOP campaigns. The future of the party will depend on whether its elite chooses to adapt to that challenge.
— David Wasserman comes at the same issue from a different angle in a piece on 538 on how the "diploma divide" is driving the GOP race. Non-college voters heavily back Trump. Those with college degrees have not coalesced behind a candidate. Whether Trump wins the nomination will depend on whether that changes, Wasserman writes.
Javier Panzar started looking at voter registration data for the 53 members of California’s House delegation. He found that at least six lawmakers — from both parties — do not actually live in the district they represent.
In some cases, they are around the corner. In others, they are miles outside of their district’s boundaries.
Does it matter to voters? Depends on whom you ask.
-- Sarah Wire identified the member of California’s congressional delegation with the most Christmas cheer. Watch the video to see inside the office and put yourself in a festive mood.
-- Melanie Mason reports that the leader of the Legislature’s business-friendly Democrats has finally revealed where he’s headed when he resigns his seat in the Assembly next week. Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno) announced Tuesday that he’s signing on as a top state advocate for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
-- Mason also tweets that the influential California Medical Assn. has put $1 million into the expected 2016 initiative campaign to hike the state’s tobacco tax by $2 a pack. The last time a tobacco tax increase was on the ballot, in 2012 as Proposition 29, tobacco companies spent more than $42 million, combined, to successfully kill it.
-- Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Downey) and Sam Farr (D-Carmel) urged the National Institutes of Health in a letter this week to send 300 monkeys used for federal testing to sanctuaries rather than to other testing facilities.
Earlier this month, the agency said that after 30 years it would stop psychological experiments on baby monkeys at a Maryland facility by 2018. Five other members of California’s congressional delegation were among the 24 signers on the letter.
-- Backers of a proposed ballot initiative that sought to require transgender people to use the public restrooms that correspond with their biological sex failed to qualify the measure for the California ballot.
-- Christine Rushton reports on Clinton flaunting her "abuela" side, and taking social media flak as a result.
-- Who’s ready to spend New Year’s Eve with Trump?
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