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Essential Politics: Second fiddles take the debate spotlight

Essential Politics: Second fiddles take the debate spotlight
(LAT)

America's political attention will turn tonight toward the tiny town that straddles Virginia's Appomattox River. There, in Farmville, Va., the two men who aspire to be a heartbeat away from the presidency will square off in a 90-minute nationally televised debate.

Bring on the vice presidential candidates.

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Good morning from the state capital. I'm Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers and here in California, as well as around the nation, we mark that it's five weeks before election day.

(A quick shout-out to the folks who attended last week's UC Riverside economic forecast, where I spoke. When I asked who was ready to fast forward to Nov. 8, the entire crowd of about 400 people seemed to raise their hands!)

CAN PENCE OR KAINE MOVE THE NEEDLE?

Tonight's showdown at Longwood University is perhaps the one real chance most voters will have to hear from Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence about their visions for the next four years.

And like any vice presidential debate, the real question is whether the event becomes a proxy in the bitter battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Pence, picked by Trump back in July, comes into tonight's debate making headlines. On Monday, a federal appeals court blocked the Indiana governor's attempt to withhold public money from resettling Syrian refugees.

Kaine, long seen as a non-controversial centrist, has campaigned fairly quietly and maintained a busy schedule of public appearances for the Democratic duo.

It seems hard to remember those days when we thought of VP nominees as the attack dogs of presidential campaigns, allowing the person at the top of the ticket to take the high road.

Whet your appetite with our video preview, and then log on as we cover the debate live on Trail Guide. Our judges will return and score the face-off just like they did last week — you'll be able to find that here after the debate ends.

'YOU'RE NO JACK KENNEDY'

Chances are tonight won't have a moment as memorable as the one that happened at the vice presidential debate on Oct. 5, 1988.

As Noah Bierman reports, few political operatives have forgotten former Vice President Dan Quayle's lost look after the late Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen cuttingly dispelled the notion that Quayle was anything like the Democratic icon, the late President John Kennedy.

OF TRUMP AND TAXES

Trump is doing his best to reframe the weekend bombshell that he may not have paid income taxes for up to 18 years.

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"I have legally used the tax laws to my benefit," the GOP nominee said in a speech in Pueblo, Colo.

Trump referred to the 1995 tax return excerpts published by the New York Times as "an alleged tax filing," but did not dispute what they revealed.

NO MORE DONATIONS, SAYS NEW YORK TO TRUMP

"The failure immediately to discontinue solicitation and to file information and reports… shall be deemed to be a continuing fraud upon the people of the state of New York," read a harshly worded letter from the New York attorney general's office dated Friday and made public Monday in its investigation of the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

The bottom line, say officials: The foundation is not registered under state law.

NEVER HAS THE KEYSTONE STATE BEEN MORE APTLY NAMED

Pennsylvania is where it's all happening in the 2016 contest, a state that's been reliably Democratic for more than two decades and now seen as the way to seal shut Trump's presidential dreams.

Cathleen Decker takes a closer look at how the Clinton strategy puts Philadelphia in the hot seat, a crucial target in winning the state on Nov. 8.

For the latest on the campaign, make sure to follow @latimespolitics. Check our daily USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll at the top of the politics page.

GOP LEGISLATORS TRY TO AVOID THE 'T' WORD

Yes, that "T" word is Trump. For two Republican members of the state Assembly, the fall election presents a double whammy of a challenge: Beating the former incumbent you upset in 2014 and doing so while that same opponent wants to link you to Trump.

Both Assemblywoman Young Kim (R-Fullerton) and Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Manhattan Beach) are finding their opponents want very much to nationalize a campaign that they believe should focus on state and local issues.

THREE NEW ADS IN CENTRAL VALLEY CONGRESSIONAL RACE

Three new ads trying to link Turlock Rep. Jeff Denham and Trump will begin airing in the Sacramento area today, Sarah Wire reports. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running one ad. Democratic challenger Michael Eggman is running the other two.

Two ads focus on Denham's work to secure permission for a new Trump hotel in downtown Washington. A Spanish-language ad focuses more on Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants.

The district is one Democrats have repeatedly tried to win (this is the second matchup for Denham and Eggman) and the national party is keeping a close eye on it this year.

DARK MONEY GROUP JUMPS INTO HEATED L.A. COUNTY CONGRESSIONAL RACE

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The group made the independent expenditure to pay for canvassers opposing Democratic lawyer Bryan Caforio, who national Democrats hope can help them win a majority in the House by ousting Knight.

The outside money may be a sign Republicans are putting serious effort into keeping the seat in party hands.

A CANNABIS CLASH OVER PROP. 64

California's most high-profile ballot measure this fall is not a slam dunk with those who already are active in the marijuana community —  namely those who are active in the medical marijuana business.

Patrick McGreevy takes a closer look at how some see new opportunity, while others fear it will wreck a system that is working for the nearly 800,000 medical pot card holders.

For more coverage of the ballot measures, keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed.

PODCAST: RECAPPING THOSE NEW LAWS

Gov. Jerry Brown's final decisions on what will, and won't, become law in 2017 were made last week. And true to form, the veteran Democrat seemed to steer his path between the centrist and liberal buoys that have defined his political career.

On this week's California Politics Podcast, we take a look at some of those eleventh hour decisions and offer a few broader takeaways from the 2016 legislative season.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

— Democratic Reps. Janice Hahn of San Pedro and Lucille Roybal-Allard of Downey on Monday criticized California Democratic Party leaders for being willing to launch a negative campaign against Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Loretta Sanchez. Hahn and Roybal-Allard have both endorsed Sanchez in her race against state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.

— Reminder: You've got three weeks left to register to vote in California. Here's how.

— You probably have seen a school teacher talking about why she opposes Proposition 56, the cigarette tax hike initiative. Here's how the tax campaign affects state schools.

-- Brown and First Lady Anne Gust Brown will induct eight new members into the California Hall of Fame next month. The new inductees, announced on Monday, include actors Harrison Ford and George Takei as well as former California first lady Maria Shriver.

-- Who will win the November election? Give our Electoral College map a spin.

LOGISTICS

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Follow me on Twitter at @johnmyers and listen to the weekly California Politics Podcast

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