SANTA YNEZ VALLEY, Calif. -- It is the fall harvest here in this fertile stretch of oaks and hills that produces some of the country's best wine. This season, though, workers also are plucking the sticky, fragrant flowers of a new crop.
Marijuana is emerging among the vineyards, not as a rival to the valley's grapes but as a high-value commodity that could help reinvigorate a fading agricultural tradition along the state's Central Coast. Brushed by ocean breeze, cannabis has taken root, offering promise and prompting the age-old question of whether there can be too much of a good thing.
Cannabis has been fully legal in California for less than a year, and no place is generating more interest in it than the stretch of coast from Monterey to here in Santa Barbara County, where farmers now hold more marijuana cultivation licenses than in any other county.
The shift in legal cultivation patterns is coming at the expense of the remote Emerald Triangle, the trio of far-northern California counties where an illegal marijuana industry has thrived for decades. The Central Coast is not growing more marijuana than the Emerald Triangle, but it could be on track to grow more legally, if trends hold.
"We're nearly right in between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the two big consumer hubs," said John De Friel, whose 17-acre Raw Garden Farm and seed lab sits among cabbage patches and wineries. "We really didn't foresee how advantageous that would turn out to be."
The regulated California cannabis market is a $4-billion-a-year industry, a boon to the local tax base and to a generation of entrepreneurial farmers more schooled in the agricultural sciences than in the dark arts of deception.
But legalization already is reordering the business and geography of cannabis cultivation, pushing crops into places they have never been. The new cultivations are challenging long-held beliefs in some conservative communities, including this one, where a rural libertarian streak is confronting a crop still stigmatized despite its legality.
The novelty of cannabis here also is a benefit. In northern California, the marijuana industry's decades-old outlaw culture has proved a major obstacle to transforming the black market into a legal one. With so much lower-cost, unregulated marijuana on the market there, farmers complying with the stiff, expensive new regulations are struggling to make it into the light.
Here, along the Central Coast, growers complying with the licensing process are having an easier time without a thriving black market as competition. California farmers have only until the end of the year to meet the licensing and regulatory requirements - a process that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars - or face the law.
While expensive, the commercial logic to get legal is undeniable. In approving recreational marijuana use in November 2016, California voters vastly expanded the legal market, which previously was accessible only to the roughly 200,000 residents with medical marijuana cards. Now, marijuana can be sold to the entire drinking-age population of the nation's most populous state.
The initiative allowed counties and cities to make their own rules, including outright bans on sale and cultivation. As a result, hundreds of potential growers are still "jurisdiction shopping," trying to find counties with the lowest cannabis taxes, the right climate, an experienced labor force and a favorable location.
Santa Barbara County set its tax on cannabis revenue at 4 percent, the lower end of the scale, hoping to attract farmers to a place where many agriculture jobs have been lost to the economics of free trade.
The approximately 330 acres under cannabis cultivation here is a tiny fraction of the land devoted to vineyards, which once helped replace a declining beef and dairy cattle industry in the valley. But government officials and growers acknowledge that more cannabis will come, in part because the "Santa Barbara brand" built by its pinot noirs could help sell the locally grown product to new consumers.
Just how much more is a concern to some government officials, all of whom see the need for new crops to boost the tax base but worry whether marijuana in the county's northern hills and southern greenhouses will change the local culture.
"What sets Santa Barbara County apart is our willingness to face reality - that marijuana is already in our communities and that pretending it will go away on its own is fantasyland," said Das Williams, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, who opposed state legalization. "But I'll be the first to say I hope it doesn't get too big."
Along the southern tip of the county, up against the Pacific Ocean, a cut-flower industry once thrived. Acres of greenhouses nurtured carnations, daisies and orchids, supervised by the descendants of Dutch and Japanese immigrants who generations before picked this place for its climate.
The decline has been precipitous. Since the U.S. free-trade agreement with Colombia was signed six years ago, what was once a historic element of the county's economy has been decimated.
Graham Farrar, in a pair of Vans, has stepped in.
A Santa Barbara County native, Farrar is the operating partner of Glass House Farms, which owns about five acres of greenhouse space just outside Carpinteria.
It is a state-of-the-art cannabis farm that produces thousands of pounds a year and has 50 employees, who unlike vineyard farm hands can work full-time because of the more frequent cannabis harvest schedule. Three annual harvests are common in cannabis greenhouse operations.
Standing in a greenhouse that once grew Gerbera Daisies and is now row after row of cannabis, Farrar notes the irony of his position.
The free-trade agreement was designed in part to help Colombia fight its problem with coca, the plant that supplies the key ingredient in cocaine. Instead, it opened up greenhouse space thousands of miles away, where he is growing what the federal government classifies as an illegal drug more dangerous than cocaine.
"Here we're just replacing one cut flower with another," Farrar said.
Farrar's operation here is more clean room than farm.
A rack of dry-cleaned lab coats awaits workers, who pick, dry and package the flower for sale. There is a small nursery for research. And each greenhouse, rigged with drip irrigation, is fitted with a $100,000 odor-control device to keep the pungent cannabis smell from nearby homes.
"Hiding is no longer a valued skill," said Farrar, 41, who worked in the software industry and has a degree in molecular biology and biochemistry. "The net of all this - the government, the climate, the compliance culture - is that this is a very goldilocks spot."
Farrar also has secured one of three cannabis retail licenses that the city of Santa Barbara is issuing for recreational sales. His goal is to transform the traditional marijuana dispensaries, which often have the furtive feel of an adult book store, into something appealing to new customers.
There will be a Santa Barbara County-grown section, but the store will have flowers and oils from all over the state. Eventually, Farrar said, it will evolve into a showroom as more and more first-time users find what they like and then choose delivery services. California-grown cannabis cannot be legally delivered outside the state.
"Most customers have not even walked in the door yet," he said. "And Santa Barbara, as a brand, rings a lot more bells for people than other places."
The initial quarterly cannabis tax revenue is due soon at the county treasury. Some early estimates say it could run between $2 million and $3 million, money that will go toward enforcing the cannabis law with some left over for public services.
In recent weeks, sheriff's deputies have carried out raids targeting farms in the backcountry areas of Tepusquet Canyon and Cuyama Valley, the county's two traditional if small-scale marijuana-growing areas, seizing plants worth millions of dollars.
Large cannabis plants washed down into Montecito, just a few miles from Farrar's greenhouses, during the catastrophic mudslides earlier this year. They served as clues that there are farms amid the avocado and citrus orchards that authorities have yet to find.
"I get that it's a whack-a-mole approach, but we have to do something to make this fair for those complying with the law," said Dennis Bozanich, the deputy county executive who manages the cannabis portfolio. "Our job is to make life as hard on them as possible and hope they may just go somewhere else."
Williams, the board chairman who opposed state legalization, said the cannabis tax revenue also will help "to pay for some mental health services and save a few public libraries."
But, given marijuana's high profit margins, he worries that it will wipe out what remains of the cut-flower industry. He also worries about the cultural message that the proximity of cannabis production might send to the county's young people.
"I grew up in this community, and I do not know, for any practical purposes, how marijuana could be any more accessible than it already is," he said. "But I do see as a danger anything that legitimizes it any more."
A few of the hoop houses at Iron Angel Ranch - steel, semicircle rings topped with plastic canopies that shield cannabis plants from the sun and wind - are high up a steep hill overlooking the Sanford Winery.
They are a legacy of the gray-market days, when farmers could grow marijuana for medical use. The risk of a raid was high. These were out-of-sight, out-of-mind "grows" that today are a small part of what the farm is producing.
Rows of hoop houses stretch out below, just along Santa Rosa Road, which connects Iron Angel to Highway 101, the main north-south artery just a few miles away. Mathew Kaplan, who helps run the farm and markets the cannabis under the name Vertical, said the 20 acres now under cultivation will grow to five times that amount by spring.
"We get lumped in with farmers in this county, and this county takes care of its farmers," Kaplan said. "That just isn't the case in other parts of the state."
But Kaplan and his partners plan to make Iron Angel a destination, as well, borrowing from the model that Sanford and other neighboring wineries have used for years.
He said tourists might one day be able to stay in cabins around the 1,500-acre hillside property, which overlooks the Santa Ynez River, racehorse training stables and vineyards that stretch into the middle distance. Oaks dripping with Spanish moss cluster around the land. There are a few Black Angus cattle and a bobcat, though he calls the latter "the laziest or slowest in the world," given all the deer around.
"I absolutely want more of us to come here; it would be great," Kaplan said. "It's always better to be part of a broader community."
How many more? The high price of land here will limit the number of new cannabis operations in the valley. But the economics are appealing: One acre of marijuana yields a product worth about five times that of an acre of grape vines.
The county has considered capping how many licenses to allow. But for now, local officials are letting the market decide who comes and who survives.
"Agriculture is always changing," said Joan Hartmann, the county supervisor who represents much of the Santa Ynez Valley. "For me, this is about keeping agriculture here and keeping it profitable."
ERIE, Pa. -- Midway through another raucous arena rally last week, President Donald Trump offered a revealing aside about Rep. Lou Barletta, the Republican he recruited to jump into Pennsylvania's Senate race.
"I got him into this," Trump said, musing about what he called "the only bad thing" about Barletta's candidacy before thousands of supporters in red ball caps. "For the rest of his life, he could have been a congressman."
A moment later, any fleeting dismay about Barletta's looming unemployment had passed, but the riff was revealing. Polling shows Barletta well behind Democratic Sen. Robert Casey Jr. Indeed, it has become increasingly hard for Republicans to remain optimistic about the chances for him and other GOP candidates across the industrial Midwest.
Many Republicans running for governor or senator in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, including several who hitched their wagon to Trump's political movement, are behind in polls by double digits, a remarkable turnabout in swing states that were key to the president's 2016 victory.
If current polling averages hold, Democrats will maintain all their Senate seats in those states, pick up a handful of House seats and, in some cases, retake the governors' mansions. In nearby Iowa, a state Trump won by nearly 10 points, the Democratic candidate for governor was running about even with the Republican governor in a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Polling this week found Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., trailing his Democratic opponent, Tony Evers.
The dramatic shift has forced political strategists to reevaluate their post-mortem lessons from the 2016 election, while raising new questions about Trump's staying power in 2020. Democratic strategists, who worried that Iowa and Ohio were slipping away from them in presidential years, are now heartened and have begun to return their attention to the traditional bellwethers.
"One false assumption that was made was that a Trump voter from the 2016 election was necessarily a Republican voter," said John Brabender, a GOP consultant who is working with Barletta. "We forget about the power of Hillary Clinton being on the ballot in 2016. If Hillary was on the ballot, Republicans would probably be doing better in all of these states."
There is a clear historical precedent for such a shift. Then-candidate Barack Obama swept the industrial Midwest in the 2008 elections, only to find his party battered in his first midterm contest two years later, when Republicans retook governorships in Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin, along with Senate seats in Indiana and Wisconsin. Obama was nonetheless able to come back and win those same states, with the exception of Indiana, in his 2012 reelection.
Pollsters do not rule out Trump repeating that success in 2020, especially if the economy remains strong. "He could certainly do what Obama did," said Berwood Yost, the polling director at Franklin and Marshall College, which tracks Pennsylvania voters. "Trump's approval rating in our state is about the same place Obama's was in 2010."
Still, the short-term impact is dire for Republicans. After surprising the nation in 2016, Trump appears to be driving turnout this year that will largely benefit Democrats, as moderate voters, and particularly college-educated women, seek an outlet for their frustration with his policies and behavior. Trump's aggressive campaign schedule for Republicans in these states has so far failed to turn the tide.
"They thought they had unlocked some formula that would make them successful. But it was only Trump and only that year," Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said of the 2016 election. "What the Republicans are doing now isn't working for union members or struggling families. It's not working for young people. It's just not working."
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who began the year as a leading target for conservative super PACs but is besting Republican challenger Leah Vukmir by about 10 points in recent polls, attributes her success to the return of an energized Democratic voting base, driven by issues like health care and sustained by how the party, in her view, has built a case that's bigger than just opposing Trump.
"The story in Wisconsin in '16 was actually a drop in voter participation that was unanticipated," Baldwin said. "I have seen in the past two years, especially among issues that are deeply personal like health care, people realizing what's at stake and they've been active and organizing. They are saying, 'No more sitting on the sidelines.' "
That same pattern is playing out in Michigan as well, where Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D, and the Democratic candidate for governor, Gretchen Whitmer, have both had comfortable margins in recent polling. Trump won the state by a whisker-thin margin of 10,704 votes in 2016.
"Everything I am seeing in my numbers is revolving not around his job approval but whether you view him favorably or unfavorably," said pollster Richard Czuba, who runs a statewide survey for the Detroit News and WDIV. "Donald Trump doesn't have an opponent and that is his problem right now. "
The result is an overall spike in voter enthusiasm in the state compared to 2016, and big swings in suburban areas such as Oakland County, the state's wealthiest region, outside Detroit. "We are finding it difficult to find college-educated women in Oakland County who will call themselves Republicans," Czuba said.
That has created reverberations in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Dave Trott, R, in Michigan's 11th district, which includes parts of the county. The district, which was drawn in 2011 to ensure Republican victories, voted for Trump in 2016 by more than four points, but recent polls have shown Democratic candidate Haley Stevens, a former Obama administration official, in the lead.
Her Republican opponent, Lena Epstein, co-chaired Trump's 2016 Michigan campaign and began the election cycle calling herself a surrogate for Trump, appearing on Fox News to praise the president's "abandonment of political correctness." She has since refocused her candidacy, dodging questions about her past commitment to join the conservative Freedom Caucus and casting herself as a bipartisan unifier.
"People don't always respect a woman in business," Epstein says in her most recent ad, which seeks to ride the coattails of the #MeToo movement. "I've been underestimated talked down to and dismissed."
John Yob, a consultant for Epstein, says the recent confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has provided a late boost to the campaign, a trend that other Republicans hope could turn these races in the coming weeks.
"We have seen a significant six-point jump in polling since the Kavanaugh confirmation and would welcome the president to campaign for Lena anytime," Yob said, describing the campaign's private data.
But the Kavanaugh effect apparent in other parts of the country may not be enough to swing races here. In many of the Great Lakes states, candidates like Barletta who most tied themselves to the Trump agenda are still flailing. In Ohio, Rep. James Renacci, R, whose first Senate campaign ad was about his tight bond with Trump, has yet to come within 10 points of incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in a major public poll.
"We have lost millions of members of our party in the last year," said John Weaver, a Republican adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich and a Trump critic, reflecting on how Trump's bid split the party. "A MAGA candidate who runs as a junior member of the walking dead and wins the primary is going to find themselves shot in the general election."
Complicating things further is the devotion of the Republican base to Trump's take-no-prisoners approach, which can make it dangerous for GOP candidates who seek to create some distance.
"When you talk to Republican primary voters, the number one issue is, 'Are you with Trump?' " said retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a Trump critic. "So, once you get through that, it's tough to pivot."
Trump's decision to renegotiate trade agreements with Mexico and Canada, and to start an escalating tariff war with China, have muddled the political fallout in the Midwest, even though the economic effects have been relatively pronounced. Rising steel and aluminum prices, falling soybean prices, and new restrictions on car imports have sparked a wave of headlines in the region about layoffs and struggling farmers.
But Democrats in the region have largely taken a nuanced approach to the same issues, with many candidates praising Trump's efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Brown, the Ohio Democrat who opposed NAFTA and other trade deals, has praised Trump's approach.
"Actually, that's one of the things I have more in common with Trump than many Republicans," Baldwin said with a chuckle when asked about her protectionist tilt on trade issues, which she said has countered the Republican case against her.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, a potential long-shot challenger of Trump in the 2020 presidential election, said the real driving force in this part of the country comes from a sense that the region is still not benefiting from the nation's overall economic growth.
Trump was able to win in 2016 by contrasting himself with Clinton, who was boasting of an economic resurgence under Obama, in the stock market and unemployment rate, that many voters did not feel in their daily lives.
"Now he is falling into that same line of argument and people are saying, 'Not so much,' " Ryan said. "There is no substantial change."