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Essential Politics: What does California have to lose?

President Trump and Joe Biden
President Trump and Joe Biden.
(Associated Press)

Of all the things you can say about President Trump, that he is complimentary of California is not one. Sure, there have been moments of goodwill, but the dynamic always returns to rancor, whether on Twitter or in court.

California is also home to more than 21 million of the country’s registered voters. A solidly blue stalwart, it hasn’t gone for a Republican president in 30 years. But the long odds haven’t stopped Trump from asking Californians to vote for him. As he asked them in a recent tweet, “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE!!!”

Will it win him new voters? Probably not. But he did raise an important point: With so much electoral power and with such a unique relationship to Washington, California is helping to choose not only a president but also a path forward. The Times examined three issues that matter to California residents and what’s at stake as they cast their ballots.

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Healthcare is front of mind — and threatened. California has done more over the last decade than almost any state to expand health insurance, bolster services for its most vulnerable residents and improve the quality of its clinics and hospitals, writes healthcare reporter Noam N. Levey. The improvement is clear in the data: More Californians have access to care, and fewer people are skipping care because of cost. But much of that progress was made possible by the Affordable Care Act.

Trump has long pledged to dismantle the ACA, also known as Obamacare, while also preserving its protections for preexisting conditions. In November, the Supreme Court is set to weigh a case — likely with a new conservative justice pushed by Trump — that would make good on the first part of his promise. Nearly four years in, he has yet to propose a plan for the second part and has not offered one for a second term.

Joe Biden assisted in the passage of the original law, and his platform includes a host of proposals that would build on it. But for California, perhaps the most difficult part of the law to replace would be the federal money that enabled its Medicaid expansion and the Covered California marketplace. The state gets some $27 billion every year to subsidize insurance coverage for low- and moderate-income Californians, a tab it can’t pick up on its own.

California wants action on climate and sees it in Biden’s promises. Lagging federal policy is holding state officials back from reaching their goals, write Evan Halper and Anna M. Phillips. Pockets of oil wells and hazardous waste facilities continue to expose some of the state’s poorest residents to health risks. A raging fire season has added urgency to the state’s push for environmental protections and more renewable energy. Advocates say California’s ability to move forward hinges on a national shift in energy policy.

The election presents two clear paths: A current White House that denies climate change and maintains close ties with fossil fuel industries versus a challenger who has aggressive plans for clean energy that would invest heavily in California. Biden’s proposals include funding for new technologies like solar batteries and reinstating a drive to develop cleaner-burning and zero-emission vehicles, a plan Trump has scaled back along with fuel economy standards.

Some environmental justice advocates worry Biden’s plans might benefit companies more than individual people. But one former climate advisor to President Obama described the potential change from a Trump presidency to a Biden one as “going from pushing a rock up a mountain to running downhill with the wind at your back.”

Win or lose, the legacy of Trump’s immigration policies will remain. As he attempted to curb immigration, those policies have indirectly and directly targeted California, immigration reporter Molly O’Toole writes. His visa changes have hit Silicon Valley hiring. He has tried to repeal federal protections for young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children — more of whom live in California than any other state.

Though Biden has pledged to reverse course, he would inherit a battered system that’s difficult to fix, with a backlog of immigration cases and a climate of fear in immigrant communities. His proposals include preserving the protections known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, though he has stopped short of embracing calls to shut down the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

For California officials, the biggest impact of a change of administrations might be that they would no longer be the constant foil for the president’s political attacks, O’Toole writes.

A tale of two cities

Earlier this year, The Times sent reporters to the hometowns of each of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination for president, with the goal of understanding them through the view from their front doors. Now, as November draws close, Trump’s preferred home of Palm Beach, Fla., — which he declared his permanent residence last year — gets a similar look.

Metro reporter Hailey Branson-Potts found a town of walls, gates and signs that read NO TRESSPASSING and KEEP OUT. Opulent mansions peek above, but you won’t find many passersby admiring them — there are few sidewalks. Between the money and the demographics, the town has a reputation as a place for wealthy insiders, one resident said. And while Trump and the town have had plenty of legal battles, his supporters flock to Mar-a-Lago.

For comparison, here’s Melanie Mason’s dive into Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Del., from February. It’s a small city with plenty of challenges: gun violence, shrinking job opportunities, gentrification. There’s one thing plenty of people agree on: Biden is a likeable guy. But some residents also say the “Delaware way” that Biden embodies — a good-faith, relationship-based, compromise-heavy approach to politics — is due for an update.

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The latest from the campaign trail

— In joint appearances with Biden, his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris has been deferential, taking pains not to outshine him. But while she has dutifully lowered her profile, Republicans keep turning attention her way, Mark Z. Barabak and Melanie Mason report.

— Hoping to avoid a repeat of the interruption-heavy first debate on Thursday, the Commission on Presidential Debates has introduced new rules, including a mute button. Speaking of the commission, what exactly is it? Matt Pearce explains.

— Two weeks before election day, Florida once again has both sides guessing. But amid long lines and intense campaigning, Evan Halper, Melissa Gomez and Brittny Mejia report that Biden has a slim lead.

— As Trump calls for his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully,” voting rights activists are bracing for voter intimidation efforts. It’s happened before, Arit John and Chris Megerian write.

The view from Washington

— From David G. Savage and Molly O’Toole: The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up the legality of Trump’s use of military funds to pay for an expanded border wall as well as his “Remain in Mexico” policy. But don’t expect a verdict until 2021.

— The Justice Department on Tuesday sued Google for antitrust violations, alleging that it abuses its dominance in online search and advertising to stifle competition and harm consumers. The lawsuit marks the government’s most significant antitrust action in 20 years.

— No matter who wins the election, Trumpism will survive, columnist Doyle McManus writes. “The reason, Republican strategists say, is simple: Trump may have failed as president, but his angry conservative populism proved spectacularly successful at winning Republican primaries.”

The view from California

— The story behind Proposition 22 is one of a political feud — Uber and Lyft clashing, at lavish expense, with labor unions and Democratic lawmakers — layered on top of a struggle to understand the changing nature of work, John Myers and Taryn Luna write. Learn more about all 12 ballot measures with The Times’ voters guide.

— From outdoor voting to special booths, several counties in California are making arrangements to allow to people who refuse to wear masks to vote safely if they arrive at the polls, Stephanie Lai writes. Election officials say their goal is to de-escalate conflict and preserve voting rights.

— Facing a growing number of accusations of sexual misconduct, a top political advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will “take a leave” from his work.

— The L.A. City Council race between incumbent David Ryu and his challenger Nithya Raman has become a proxy fight between establishment and leftist Democrats, with figures such as Hillary Clinton weighing in for Ryu and Bernie Sanders for Raman.

— In Los Angeles, education reporter Howard Blume spoke to school board candidates about how they’ll address the deep inequality exacerbated by the pandemic, and L.A. County government reporter Jaclyn Cosgrove has the story on how the debate over police reform has upended the race for an L.A. County Board of Supervisors seat.

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