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Veteran Republican congressman's reign in California´s Riverside County under siege

Julia Wick, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

LOS ANGELES — For decades, Rep. Ken Calvert, 71, presided comfortably over this corner of the Inland Empire. The lifelong Riverside County Republican largely coasted to reelection in a safely conservative district, eventually becoming one of the most senior members of the California House delegation.

But that evaporated in 2022, when Calvert was nearly toppled by a fresh-faced Democratic insurgent.

Will Rollins' candidacy in California's 41st District was made viable by redistricting changes the year prior that swapped Republican havens like Temecula and Murrieta for a swath of the Coachella Valley that included overwhelmingly liberal Palm Springs, home to one of the largest concentrations of LGBTQ+ voters in the country.

The 2022 race didn't draw much attention at first. That quickly changed in the months prior to the election when the former federal prosecutor, now 39, showed he might have an actual shot at unseating the entrenched Republican stalwart. Rollins was briefly ahead on election night, though Calvert ultimately bested him by more than 11,000 votes.

Two years later, Rollins and Calvert are set for a 2024 rematch in what is now one of the most closely-watched races in the country.

The seat will likely play a crucial role in deciding which party dominates the U.S. House of Representatives next year, with partisan control of the House set to be determined by a handful of competitive seats in New York and California.

 

One story line drew particular attention during the last election, particularly in national media.

In a twist that one advocate described as "poetic justice," Rollins was a young gay candidate battling an older Republican who had voted against LGBTQ rights in the past in a district that now included Palm Springs, the first city in the nation to elect an all-LGBTQ city council. (Calvert has said his views have since evolved, and the congressman voted in favor of a 2022 bill that affirmed same-sex marriage.)

All of those dynamics remain at play, and the addition of the Coachella Valley is precisely what made the district competitive.

But the Inland Empire suburbs still account for the vast majority of its voters, and it's there, in the bedroom communities and increasingly diverse cul-de-sacs, that the battle for Calvert's seat is really being fought.

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