Political Notebook: Gay CA House candidate Rollins launches TV ads

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday September 14, 2022
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California congressional candidate Will Rollins. Photo: Rick Gerharter
California congressional candidate Will Rollins. Photo: Rick Gerharter

An increasingly confident gay candidate for a Southern California House seat launched his first TV ads this week. Two political action committees supporting the first-time contender for political office also dropped their own online ads in recent days attacking the Republican incumbent he is aiming to defeat in the November 8 election.

Will Rollins, a former federal prosecutor who lives with his partner in Canyon Lake, is running against conservative Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona) in the state's new 41st Congressional District. Due to the decennial redistricting process, the House seat now incorporates a large part of the gay retirement and tourist mecca Palm Springs.

In a sign of how LGBTQ voters could play kingmaker in this year's race, Calvert, 69, was one of a handful of GOP congressmembers running in more purple districts this year voting in support of a marriage equality act, despite his track record of voting against same-sex marriage. The federal bill now awaits an expected vote in the coming weeks by the U.S. Senate.

The change to the district's boundaries, in addition to the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning a national right to abortion, and the intensifying legal and congressional investigations into former President Donald Trump and his supporters who attacked the U.S. Capitol, has boosted Rollins' belief that he can swing the seat from red to blue. He highlights those issues in his 30-second campaign ad, titled "Power."

"Ken Calvert called for dropping charges against the Capitol attackers. But he thinks it's OK to prosecute women who get an abortion and their doctors," says Rollins, who turns 38 later this month, in the ad.

In a recent phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Rollins noted that as of mid-August, registered Democrats had edged out Republicans by nearly 1,700 people in the district per the latest data released by the Riverside County Registrar of Voters.

"As Paolo, my partner, recently said, 'Oh shit! Does this mean he can win?'" quipped Rollins, who was in the Bay Area last week as a featured candidate at a Marin fundraiser hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Since Calvert was first elected to Congress in 1992, he has never faced running in a district where the GOP did not have the overall edge in voter registration, noted Rollins.

"He has never faced an electorate that has been bluer," said Rollins, adding that, "We have definitely gained a lot of voters in registration since the new lines for the district were drawn."

The Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision on abortion rights has helped drive more women to register as voters, Rollins pointed out, not only across the country but also in California. Part of that likely has to do with the statewide ballot measure — Proposition 1 — that would enshrine access to abortion as part of the Golden State's constitution if voters pass it in November.

"It's been a lot of momentum shifting from where I think some pundits were saying the Democrats' chances were earlier this year, you know," said Rollins, referring to the conventional wisdom that the party in power usually loses House seats in midterm elections.

Following Rollins' second-place finish in the June primary with 30% of the vote, the DCCC named him to its coveted Red to Blue Program, bringing him national attention from party donors and mainstream political reporters. Democratic leaders from across the state have also lined up behind his candidacy, from Governor Gavin Newsom to U.S. Senator Alex Padilla.

"Will's race represents one of our best shots in the country to flip a GOP-held House seat from red to blue," noted Padilla in a recent fundraising appeal sent out by Rollins' campaign.

But Calvert, who took the top spot in the primary with 48.2%, is still favored to win reelection by political prognosticators. Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, continues to list the seat as likely staying in the GOP column in his Sabato's Crystal Ball ratings.

The Cook report, however, has changed its rating for the race from "likely Republican" to "lean Republican." Meanwhile, outside groups aligned with the Democratic Party are sensing there is a good chance of defeating Calvert this year and dropped digital ads attacking him in recent days.

An ad from the Progress Action Fund PAC highlights Calvert's ties to pastor Tim Thompson, who is quoted as saying that same-sex marriage and transgender people are part of "Satan's wicked plans."

Tuesday Equality California Votes, a super PAC aligned with the statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, released its own attack ad against Calvert. It accuses him of being "one of the most corrupt members of Congress."

Equality California Votes spokesperson Samuel Garrett-Pate, in announcing the release of the spot, stated, "For 30 years, Ken Calvert has voted against lowering prescription drug costs for seniors, against abortion rights and reproductive freedom and against LGBTQ+ equality — while laughing his way to the bank with our tax dollars."

As for Calvert, he is focusing on economic issues to attack Rollins, featuring his support for small business owners in a campaign spot he released last week. And he has also been highlighting the rising inflation rates that have hit people's pocketbooks.

"Even with Bidenflation on the rise, my opponent Will Rollins thinks President Biden is doing a great job and wants to keep our country on the same path. We can't afford Joe Biden. We can't afford Will Rollins," Calvert tweeted Tuesday on the news that consumer prices rose 8.3% in August from a year earlier.

Rollins plans to roll out two more of his own campaign ads in the coming weeks hitting at Calvert's record. And he is targeting more moderate Republicans fed up with where their party has gone under the sway of Trump and right-wing factions to consider casting their ballot for him.

"Dear Republicans: I'm pro-small business and I worked in law enforcement. Give me 2 years in Congress to clean up after Corrupt Ken, and if I suck at the job, you can bring him back in 2024," Rollins wrote in a recent tweet.

He told the B.A.R. it is aimed at the roughly 14,000 Republicans who have left their party since the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Combined with the 40% of Republicans who reject Trump's "Big Lie" that he won the last presidential election, Rollins believes they could be persuaded to support him come November 8.

"I know some moderate Republicans in there who are getable. I want to make the case for them: I am the better choice in November and that includes on issues that affect small business owners and law enforcement," said Rollins, who predicted his margin of victory would be 4%.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column went behind the scenes of the Dutch queen's recent sitdown with local LGBTQ leaders.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com

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