Newsletter: Welcome to Essential Politics

Welcome to Essential Politics, a new newsletter from the Los Angeles Times just in time for the real kickoff of election season. I’m Christina Bellantoni, assistant managing editor for politics and your host for today's edition. Let's get right to it.

With the next debate days away at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Wednesday, a fresh USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey found real estate mogul-turned-candidate Donald Trump far ahead of his presidential rivals among the voters likely to participate in California's June GOP primary.

Cathleen Decker put the numbers in perspective, and spoke with a 57-year-old Hawthorne Republican and Trump supporter who told her he had been forced twice to "reinvent" himself professionally as his jobs had become dominated by Latinos. "I grew up with blacks; I'm cool with them," Mario DiPasquale said. "What I'm not OK with is everywhere you go it's brown people, everywhere you go." He said he is glad his preferred candidate is speaking about "something that is really important and has gotten out of control."

The story has a ton of detail, so you should go read all of it, but here are some highlights and tidbits you may have missed.

Trump and surgeon Ben Carson led the pack, followed by Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz tied in a distant third place with 6%. Decker writes the USC/LAT poll "was perhaps most humbling" for California's Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who earned her way to the main debate stage after a solid performance in a secondary debate forum last month. She had 5% in the poll. "Just four years after she spent tens of millions to impress them [with her Senate bid against Sen. Barbara Boxer], less than half of Republicans in California said they would consider voting for her, and 23% said they would never consider it,” Decker noted.

Pollsters asked voters about hypothetical matchups with Trump and a handful of the other candidates, and found only Carson defeated the former reality television star, 43% to 32%.

The poll found that California remains a bright spot for Hillary Rodham Clinton, who on Sunday debuted a new television ad starring her granddaughter Charlotte. One in six voters planning to cast ballots in the state's Democratic primary was undecided at the close of a summer that found Clinton on defense over emails she sent as secretary of state and losing ground in critical early nominating states to Sen. Bernie Sanders. Still, Clinton topped Sanders in the poll 42% to 26%, one of her largest leads, thanks in part to strong support from women, Latinos and Asian voters.

The survey had Vice President Joe Biden, who will be in Southern California on debate day talking about climate change, capturing 11%, taking away support from Clinton and Sanders equally. With him included in the field, Clinton held at 39% to 23% for Sanders.

We asked about all kinds of things in the USC/LAT poll, including the race to replace Boxer, who is retiring. Michael Finnegan analyzed the numbers in this piece. The topline: with more than one-third of likely voters undecided, Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris held a lead over Rep. Loretta Sanchez, 26% to 17%. Republicans Tom Del Beccaro and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez pulled 10% and 9%, respectively.

Finally, if you were out enjoying your Friday evening, you may have missed the flurry of activity in Sacramento as the legislative session came to a close.

Patrick McGreevy and Melanie Mason rounded up the last-minute votes, and photographer Marcus Yam pulled his best shots together in this slideshow.

Mason and Chris Megerian took a step back to tell the inside story of how Gov. Jerry Brown, whose approval rating in California is sagging, lost on his signature initiative.

Brown has bigger things to worry about for the moment as a raging wildfire in Lake and Napa counties forced evacuations and prompted him to declare a state of emergency Sunday. 

Today's essentials

-- While he didn’t get everything he wanted, Brown will have a lot of legislation on his desk to consider. Generating the most buzz is a measure related to licensing and regulating medical marijuana, paving the way for a system, should voters opt to legalize it for recreational use.

Brown also will consider legislation starting automatic voter registration, the creation of new felonies that could lead to more people in prison, an assisted suicide bill the measure's author noted the governor will "struggle" with given his Catholic background and a mostly overlooked bill that would ban schools from using the term "Redskins" as school or athletic team names, mascots or nicknames.

-- Seema Mehta scoops that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker abruptly canceled his planned appearance this weekend at the California Republican Convention.

-- Mark Z. Barabak wonders if debate day will be sunny in California for the Republicans who idolize Ronald Reagan but are attempting to win a presidential primary.

George Skelton asks in his Monday column what the Gipper would think of this bunch.

But will Biden visit the spin room?

-- Javier Panzar, joining Team Politics from the Metro desk, noticed Sen. Dianne Feinstein had some pointed advice for aspiring female politicians during an appearance back home over summer recess.

-- Decker used her Sunday column to outline how the rhetoric in the presidential race perhaps isn't helpful to California Republicans trying to win in such a diverse state. Don't miss this quote from a party veteran: "One of the big problems in California is there really is no California Republican voice. What voters hear is the national party. There really isn't anyone helping California voters … understand that Republicans in D.C. and Republicans in the South don't necessarily speak for Republicans in California."

-- Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra is injecting more politics into next week’s papal visit to the United States.

-- Evan Halper reports about Silicon Valley types who feel as if they're being treated like campaign props for Sen. Rand Paul and every other GOP contender traveling through the region. From the story: "The candidates talk about tech all the time, but in the offices of startups and the boardrooms of venture capital firms, there is little excitement about the crop of politicians whose outreach tends to involve clumsy efforts to speak the language of innovation followed by an appeal for campaign checks."


Wondering what this newsletter is all about? Keep reading. If you like it, great! We'll see you again tomorrow.

The old, automated Los Angeles Times politics newsletter is a thing of the past.

Instead we'll use the new Essential Politics to highlight our team's most engaging stories, offer some fresh reporting from the campaign trail, detail what's happening with the people who make up California's political universe and showcase tidbits you may have missed the first time around.

You're busy, and there are lot of political newsletters from which to choose. Our aim is to be good enough to be considered a must-read. You can help us to that end by sharing your feedback on what you want most.

For now, Monday through Thursday this space will deliver essential (get it?) headlines with a little narrative from me and other members of our team in California. (Get to know everyone here.)

On Fridays, Washington bureau chief David Lauter will deliver a late-afternoon version from our team in D.C. and on the campaign trail with the week's best enterprise reporting and other great long reads to take you into the weekend.

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