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Newsletter: It’s go-time in Iowa, as Californians await their turn

Iowa Caucuses 2016
Voters sign in as they arrive at a Democratic Party caucus site in Keokuk, Iowa, on Saturday. The state kicks off the nominating process for both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominee, and this year, the Iowa Democratic Party is hosting remote caucuses to allow Iowans who are out of state to vote.
(Michael B. Thomas / AFP / Getty Images)

In a season where the political stakes seem higher and emotions rawer than ever before, the long prelude to this year’s presidential time for choosing is over.

It’s time for Iowa. And soon after, the choice will come to California in a campaign that for many Democratic voters is no longer simply a referendum on the record and rhetoric of President Trump.

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Few expect the Hawkeye State to produce a definitive answer as to which candidate will square off against the president in November. And though there are plenty of stories on the divergent opinions of Iowans on the path forward, there’s fascinating detail in how these same crosscurrents are playing out here at home among likely voters.

THE CAUCUSES CONVENE

Democrats will hold 1,678 precinct caucuses across Iowa on Monday evening, each likely to feature a frenzy of activity as voters gather intro groupings based on their favorite candidate. Will there really be a single winner? Probably not, as Iowa Democratic Party officials plan to simply release the tally of delegates awarded.

But in symbol as much as substance, the outcome in Iowa is expected to solidify at least some of the contours of the multi-candidate race. As Mark Z. Barabak and Janet Hook write from Des Moines, there’s the palpable sense of a cliffhanger in the making as Democrats make their final arguments. The two leaders in national surveys, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, finished their Iowa campaigns largely as they began them. But there’s been real change for the messaging from their two closest rivals, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

And even though some of the frenzy of the final weekend of campaigning was to be expected, there was still some last-minute drama: the long-awaited final poll results of Iowa voters were scuttled by concerns over polling accuracy.

While Democrats have dominated talk in Iowa, the president plans a show of force on Monday — a reminder that the state that tilted heavily in his favor four years ago could be competitive in November. And that’s after dueling Super Bowl ads and insults with former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the most prominent Democratic contender who’s not been spending his days crisscrossing Iowa.

MEASURING THE DIVIDE

Four weeks after the caucus cleanup begins in Iowa, it will be California’s turn — though we can’t ignore that the state’s voters are already casting ballots by mail and a majority may have already weighed in by the time polls open on March 3.

The main finding in the most recent poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, conducted for the Los Angeles Times, was a strong showing for Sanders. But for keen watchers of politics, the poll’s findings among subgroups of voters offer a great glimpse of how this is no ordinary presidential campaign.

For starters, there are clear divisions by age, ethnicity and gender when it comes to which Democrat to select and why. Most voters under age 40 said they’re motivated by agreeing with a candidate on the issues more than the ability of the person to beat Trump. So did a majority of Latino, African American and Asian American voters. This is, of course, the great outsider-versus-establishment quandary for Democrats across the nation.

But in California, it’s not just Democrats at stake.

As we’ve reported, unaffiliated voters can cast ballots for a Democrat in the presidential primary. And though almost 59% of Californians who call themselves “strong” Democrats think beating Trump is Job No. 1, almost 79% of independent voters want someone who agrees with them on the issues. Those unaffiliated voters could prove particularly helpful to the issue-driven strength of the Sanders campaign, especially if they turn out in large numbers.

(Reminder: Republicans, consistent with past presidential primaries, did not open up their contest to independent California voters.)

Where else are there interesting divides on the issues/electability question? Latinos who primarily speak Spanish choose electability, while those who speak mostly English choose agreement on the issues. An issue-focused preference was also found among the lowest-income earners and those with no more than a high school education. And then there’s this: Almost 71% of respondents who have never been married want a candidate who agrees with them on the issues, while strong majorities of those who are (or have been) married selected the possibly more pragmatic selection of a focus on beating Trump.

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LIGHTNING ROUND: From Iowa to impeachment

Andrew Yang, the typically laid-back entrepreneur and longshot candidate, seemed especially carefree during town halls in Iowa.

— This year, Iowa Democrats are hosting satellite caucuses, including in California, to allow residents who are out of state to vote in the contest.

— Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has endorsed Bloomberg’s candidacy.

— The Senate vote on whether to remove Trump from office or acquit him is expected on Wednesday. And it’s unclear whether all 47 Democratic and independent senators will vote to convict.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

— After more than two years of debate, five major revisions and two tense days of counting votes, a high-profile legislative effort to dramatically increase home building across California is officially dead.

— California utilities could be banned from charging for electricity during power shut-offs and required to reimburse their customers for spoiled food or other financial losses under legislation that cleared the state Senate last week.

— Alarmed by a trend of people live-streaming violent crimes, a California state senator wants to require social media websites including Facebook to remove photographs or video of crimes posted by alleged perpetrators.

— California lawmakers will consider expanding the reach of the state’s juvenile justice system so that those under age 21 are automatically tried as minors — an idea backed by some state probation officers, who say teenagers aren’t mature enough to be held responsible in the same way as older offenders.

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