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Newsletter: One nasty debate

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Frank Luntz, a polling expert, convened a virtual focus group of independent voters from swing states to assess the first Trump-Biden debate. Luntz has conducted televised focus groups for major news outlets since 1996. He is not working for any presidential candidate or political party in the 2020 election. His political work was primarily for Republicans in the past.

The first presidential debate devolved into angry insults and accusations, as President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden clashed over the pandemic, the future of the Supreme Court and more.

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One Nasty Debate

Shouting, insults and misinformation dominated the first presidential debate, as President Trump sought to close a persistent polling gap and mobilize his base with conspiracy theories that veered into words of encouragement for a white supremacist group and pro-Trump “poll watchers” engaging in voter intimidation.

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The event in Cleveland quickly devolved into an incoherent back-and-forth. Frontrunner Joe Biden, whose main goal in the debate was to reassure voters that the incumbent’s caricature of him as frail and incompetent is without merit, angrily pushed back as the president tried to bait and taunt him.

Neither man emerged from the night unscathed. But the cringeworthy 90 minutes of yelling and finger pointing, which moderator Chris Wallace could scarcely control, hardly seemed to change the contours of this acrimonious race.

Trump made no apologies throughout the night, even when the sparring turned to the racial injustice that has sparked protest throughout America. When asked if he would condemn white supremacists, he urged the far-right group Proud Boys to “stand back, and stand by” — words the group took as a rallying cry.

As it became clear that Trump’s strategy was to badger and berate Biden at every turn, the Democrat called Trump a “liar,” a “fool,” a “clown” and “unpresidential.” And at one point, Biden said, “Will you shut up, man?” His campaign quickly put the line on a T-shirt.

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Here are several key takeaways from the night.

The first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News, center, gestures during the first presidential debate between President Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

More From the Debate

Fact-checking the first presidential debate: Trump unleashed a blizzard of falsehoods.

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Debate scorecard: A round-by-round analysis of the Trump-Biden matchup.

— Ahead of the face-off, Biden and running mate Kamala Harris released their latest tax returns, showing that the Democratic candidates and their spouses paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes to the federal government in 2019.

Sign up for our newly expanded Essential Politics newsletter for a deeper dive on issues facing California and the nation.

A Triple Whammy

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In what has been called California’s most destructive wildfire season ever, the Glass fire in wine country is now one of more than 20 blazes burning in the state. It has destroyed at least 80 homes as the flames straddle Napa and Sonoma counties, which together are home to more than 800 wineries, many family-owned.

That this area is once again engulfed in flames after the fires of 2017 is painful enough — that it happened in the midst of a global pandemic is almost one blow too many. This year, the pandemic has closed tasting rooms, wildfire smoke has threatened multimillion-dollar vintages and the fires have created a devastating triple-whammy.

“I’m numb,” said Vince Tofanelli, owner of the Tofanelli Family Vineyard in Calistoga. His grandparents purchased the vineyard’s first parcel in 1929, but by Tuesday morning, all of its structures had been destroyed, including an old redwood barn, a water tower, two homes and outbuildings, he said.

More About the Fires

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— The deadly Zogg fire continued to carve a destructive path through Northern California’s Shasta County, swelling to more than 40,000 acres.

Track the progress of California’s wildfires with our map.

Reopening Moves

Even though the risk of being infected with the coronavirus remains widespread in Los Angeles County, a limited number of elementary schools will be able to apply for waivers to reopen transitional kindergarten through second-grade classrooms under a Board of Supervisors decision that gives priority to schools serving higher numbers of low-income families.

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L.A. County officials, citing high local COVID-19 case rates, have held back on allowing elementary schools to apply for waivers to reopen, which are allowed under state guidelines. But some school leaders, particularly private school operators, have been urging the county to rethink its position.

In a split decision, the county Board of Supervisors also voted to reopen outdoor operations at wineries, breweries and card rooms; the move will take effect in one week.

Meanwhile outdoor playgrounds in California have been given the green light for reopening, but as usual, it will be up to local jurisdictions on whether they do.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

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— A new report by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscores how children can catch, suffer and die from the coronavirus.

Disney will lay off 28,000 workers at its U.S. theme parks, from Disneyland — which California hasn’t yet let reopen — to Walt Disney World in Orlando.

— Why “herd immunity” can’t save us from COVID-19.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On this date in 1955, James Dean was killed in a collision near the rural town of Cholame, Calif., as he drove his sports car to an automobile racing competition. He was 24.

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“The young actor met death in his German-built Porsche sports car while en route to road races at Salinas,” The Times reported the next day. “Patrolmen said Dean was dead on arrival at the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital following the crash at the intersection of State Highway 41 and U.S. 466.”

The death of the Hollywood star resonated throughout the world and for decades to come, but Dean was hardly the only person to die along a stretch of road that became known as “Blood Alley.”

James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause."
(Associated Press)
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Want more of the Los Angeles Times archives? We’re on Instagram.

CALIFORNIA

— Gov. Gavin Newsom’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted his approval rating to among the highest of any governor in the past 50 years at the same point. But he’s also facing dissatisfaction over his handing of homelessness and housing costs.

— Newsom has vetoed a bill that would have authorized California to give low-income immigrants $600 to buy groceries. The bill was aimed at helping people, including those living in the country illegally, who have been affected by the coronavirus but are not eligible for other state and federal assistance programs.

— The Los Angeles Police Department’s program for diverting kids detained for crimes into support programs rather than courts and jail cells came under fire during a meeting of the civilian Police Commission, with youth advocates highlighting problems and commissioners promising reforms.

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— A military KC-130 cargo plane collided with a fighter jet over Imperial County, according to the United States Marine Corps and the California Highway Patrol.

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NATION-WORLD

— A lawyer for former Trump administration national security advisor Michael Flynn told a judge that she recently updated Trump on the case and asked him not to issue a pardon for her client.

Kentucky’s attorney general has agreed to release the recordings of the secret grand jury proceeding that considered charges against three officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

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— Leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia have brushed off the suggestion of peace talks, accusing each other of obstructing negotiations over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, where dozens have been killed and injured in fighting.

— Facing a strained economy, Lebanon is trying to make a booming signature export out of an industry that was illegal until recently: cannabis.

— The United Arab Emirates plans to send an unmanned mission to the moon in 2024, a top Emirati official said.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— A commission led by law professor Anita Hill surveying nearly 10,000 entertainment industry workers found few believe perpetrators of sexual misconduct will be held accountable.

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— After exiting “America’s Got Talent” and filing a discrimination complaint against NBC, Gabrielle Union has come to an agreement with the network regarding her concerns about racism on the competition program.

Helen Reddy, who shot to stardom in the 1970s with her feminist anthem “I Am Woman” and recorded a string of other hits, has died at 78.

J. Balvin, Bad Bunny and Ozuna lead the nominations for the 21st Latin Grammy Awards.

BUSINESS

U.S. employers, battered by rising hospital and pharmaceutical prices, are increasingly open to a bigger government role in healthcare, including regulating prices and expanding Medicare to more working Americans.

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— It’s hard enough to crack down on robocall scams. It’s even harder when they’re run by the phone company itself, columnist David Lazarus writes.

SPORTS

— Is this finally the Dodgers’ year to win the World Series? We asked our baseball writers to fill in their postseason brackets with their predictions.

— The NFL has its first potential COVID-19 crisis, after three Tennessee Titans players and five staffers tested positive for the coronavirus, the league said. The team and the Vikings, who hosted them Sunday, have suspended in-person activities.

— The Anaheim City Council voted to approve a revised deal with Angels owner Arte Moreno, selling Angel Stadium and the surrounding land for $150 million in cash in return for the team’s commitment to stay in Anaheim through 2050.

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OPINION

— The Times’ editorial board, which is separate from its newsroom, endorses Proposition 25, calling it “an important step toward better justice.” The ballot measure would end bail in California, and with it the use of wealth or poverty to determine whether a person accused of a crime stays in jail while awaiting trial. See all the endorsements from the board here.

— The Trump administration has deeply damaged our civil rights laws, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) writes. Should Biden win the election, she recommends taking urgent steps to restore them.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister, is breaking ground in many ways, including the response to COVID-19. (Rest of World)

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“They’re all hustlers.” Trump privately mocks his evangelical Christian supporters. (The Atlantic)

— “The voices we don’t hear are the ones who are shut up at home.” With schools closed for the pandemic, many students who rely on the promises of public education are being left behind by remote learning. (Pro Publica / The New Yorker)

ONLY IN L.A.

Zooies Cookies, which Times food writer Jenn Harris proclaimed to be “the best shop-bought cookies I’ve ever tasted,” operates out of a sleek metal and concrete building in Cheviot Hills that’s home to a gas station. So, what is the secret to its success? Owner Arezou Appel not only shares the recipe for Zooies Oatmeal Raisin Cookies but also explains how she and her crew “get that glorious end product.”

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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