Democratic House candidate Will Rollins is going on the offensive just weeks before the primary election— calling out the Republican party and his opponent, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., for “extremism” in a new ad attempting to highlight how his values reflect those of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan rather than that of Donald Trump.

In an ad first obtained by Spectrum News that will be released this week, Rollins highlights how his family were registered republicans who idolized Eisenhower and Reagan, and that his grandparents taught him “that the GOP stood for smaller government, personal responsibility, law and order and standing up to Russia.”

What You Need To Know

  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif. and former prosecutor Will Rollins, D-Calif., are facing off for a rematch in California’s 41st Congressional District this election cycle

  • In an ad first screened by Spectrum News, Rollins calls out the "extremism" of Republicans and Calvert, who has served in California politics for over three decades

  • Democrats see the California 41st as a race that could help to flip the House from red to blue in 2024

“The reason I’m a Democrat today is that the party my grandparents once believed in no longer stands for any of those things — just extremism and the politics of division — which have kept Ken Calvert in office for 32 years,” Rollins tells the camera in the new ad. “My career has been about public service, first working for a Republican governor, then in counterterrorism at the Department of Justice, and a prosecutor protecting Riverside County. I’m a lot of what the Republican Party used to be, but isn’t anymore. I care about your freedom and your security, just like you.”

The six-figure ad buy will air in the Palm Springs and Los Angeles markets on both television and streaming platforms.

California’s 41st District, located in Southern California’s Inland Empire, has become more competitive in recent years, following redistricting that added Palm Springs and its large LGBTQ community to the former Republican stronghold. The new congressional district lines have made a difference when it comes to voter registration.

“Over the last several decades, we’ve had large numbers of both Latino and Black residents moving from Los Angeles out into these areas where the cost of living is a little bit more affordable,” said Sara Sadhwani, a democracy fellow at Harvard and a member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission that helped draw the current district maps.

Calvert has been taking his own swipes at Rollins. Last week, Calvert released an ad attacking Rollins’ record as a prosecutor, calling him “soft on crime.” “Riverside County families can count on Representative Ken Calvert to keep them safe because he’s endorsed by the Riverside County Sheriff, District Attorney and Sheriffs’ Association and the Corona Police Officers Association. A court declared Will Rollins tried to confuse and mislead voters, so it’s no surprise Rollins would say anything to distract from his soft-on-crime record and radical endorsements,” said Ben Petersen, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

One strategist told Spectrum News that Rollins is on the offense early, in part because Calvert is already spending money on ads attacking Rollins’ record — demonstrating Calvert’s team sees Rollins as a threat. Sadwhani said she tends to agree.

“Ken Calvert has — as a Republican — long aligned with Donald Trump. And of course, Donald Trump’s popularity is waning throughout much of southern California amongst many residents, not all of course. So I think in many ways, Calvert’s attacks on Will Rollins on issues relating to crime, which is one of the top issues throughout Southern California, is a way of almost distancing himself from Trump and reminding voters about other issues,” explained Sadhwani.

“No doubt Ken Calvert is feeling the heat from Will Rollins, and that’s why he’s running these ads now. It was an incredibly tight race back in 2022. And certainly Calvert is making that calculation that it’s going to be competitive again in 2024.”

Rollins entered the race in 2022 as a relative unknown, but proved to be a worthy opponent against Calvert, who has served in Congress for over three decades. Rollins lost to Calvert by 11,100 votes, but has continued to build his name recognition and fundraising over the last year for a second challenge.

Rollins ended 2023 with over $2.2 million cash on hand, compared to Calvert’s over $2.4 million. 

National democratic strategists say they feel this seat may be one of their best chances to pick up a seat in southern California, and a big assist in their chances of winning back the majority in the House. Rollins’ serious challenge in 2022 came as a shock to Democrats across the country, but his candidacy has since gained national attention, making the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” list earlier this year.

“Many people are looking at this race and the Will Rollins candidacy as a real opportunity to flip this district. He came very close in 2020 to challenging Ken Calvert, but of course that’s a midterm election and here in California we see voter turnout — and across America — we see voter turnout dropped during those midterm elections,” added Sadhwani. “Now, with a presidential election on the ballot, the stakes have risen in many ways. We can anticipate voter turnout is going to be higher, and no doubt Will Rollins is hoping that that’s going to work in his favor.”