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Republican Rep. Ken Calvert defeats Democrat Will Rollins to hold Riverside County seat

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Rep. Ken Calvert, the longest-serving Republican member of California’s congressional delegation, won reelection in Riverside County despite being drawn into a less favorable district during the decennial reconfiguring of congressional maps.

Calvert beat Democrat Will Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, in a district that became much more competitive this year, in part because of the inclusion of one of the nation’s largest concentrations of LGBTQ voters. The Associated Press called the race Monday, though official results will take longer.

“This election demonstrated that Riverside County voters are more interested in people serious about solving our challenges, than personal politics,” Calvert said in a written statement in which he called Rollins an “extremist liberal.” “It’s clear that this district, like our country, is narrowly divided on a partisan basis. I am proud of my record of delivering results for Riverside County by working in a bipartisan manner throughout my career.”

Calvert, 69, was first elected to Congress in a 1992 contest decided by fewer than 600 votes. Born and raised in Corona, where he still lives, he has coasted to reelection for much of the past three decades.

But Riverside County had been skewing less Republican, in part because of an influx of L.A. residents seeking more affordable housing. Redistricting, which occurs every 10 years after the U.S. Census, made Calvert’s congressional district much more competitive this year; Democrats have a 0.6-percentage-point registration advantage over Republicans.

Solidly GOP areas such as Temecula and Murrieta were excised from the district, and more liberal areas were added — including Palm Springs, the first city in the nation to elect an all-LGBTQ city council.

In Calvert’s first reelection campaign, in 1994, an ally of his outed Calvert’s challenger, Mark Takano. The freshman congressman’s campaign sent voters hot pink and lavender mailers that claimed Takano had a “secret agenda” and asked whether the Democrat would be a “Congressman for Riverside … or San Francisco?”

(Takano was elected to Congress in 2012 and has represented western Riverside County since then. By all accounts, he and Calvert have a civil relationship and have collaborated on projects that benefit their districts.)

There was some schadenfreude among Rollins supporters about the prospect of him defeating a politician who had long opposed gay rights. Rollins is gay and lives with his long-time partner in Palm Springs.

Calvert voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages, and in 2010 he voted against the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Calvert said his views have changed and that his past positions aligned with those of most Republicans and Democrats at the time. He broke with his party in August by voting for the Respect for Marriage Act, which would offer federal protection for same-sex and interracial marriage.

Though Rollins highlighted social issues in the campaign, the issue he focused on more was threats to democracy and the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, as lawmakers met to certify the 2020 presidential election.

Rollins, 38, helped prosecute people who breached the U.S. Capitol that day. Calvert voted against certifying the electoral college votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, saying he believed there were voting irregularities in the two states although he believes Joe Biden legitimately won the election.

Calvert has deep roots in the district. Supporters say despite his decades in the nation’s capital, Calvert remains a familiar face in the community, showing up at Rotary and Chamber of Commerce meetings when he is home.

More importantly, they say, Calvert has been a powerful advocate for the district, securing federal funds for transportation and infrastructure projects as well as stopping the closure of two area military bases.

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