Press "Enter" to skip to content

Is Jan. 6 a Winning Political Issue? We’re About to Find Out.

On Tuesday, we’ll get an unusually clear test of the political power of Jan. 6 at the ballot box.

In California’s newly drawn 41st Congressional District, a pro-business Republican who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election faces a primary for a House seat against a Democratic former federal prosecutor who worked cases against several alleged Capitol rioters.

No race provides a starker contrast between voters’ usual kitchen-table concerns and what the leading challenger cast in an interview as a battle for “the future of democracy.”

The Republican incumbent, Representative Ken Calvert, embodies a changing G.O.P.

He has represented the area for three decades, though the district’s boundaries, which now stretch from suburban areas east of Los Angeles to Palm Springs, have changed over the years. He was first elected to the House in 1992 as a traditional, Chamber of Commerce-style conservative, but has moved rightward along with his party.

He voted on Jan. 6, 2021, against certifying President Biden’s victory, but later published an op-ed article denouncing the mob at the Capitol. Donald Trump has endorsed him, though Calvert’s website makes no mention of that fact. He prefers to talk about the price of gas in a state where the average gallon now costs $6.25.

Calvert has faced accusations of ethical lapses during his time in office, though he has always denied wrongdoing. After the police discovered him in a parked car with a woman in 1993, he acknowledged having sex with a prostitute, saying he had been “lonely” after a recent divorce.

In California’s unusual primary system, voters in the district will decide which two candidates advance to the general election, regardless of party.

The leading Democratic challenger is Will Rollins, a 37-year-old former assistant U.S. attorney in California who has made Jan. 6 the central theme of his campaign. In his ads, such as this introductory video, he talks about the danger to democracy posed by domestic extremism and misinformation — ideas most other candidates in his party rarely emphasize.

Rollins saw a “huge rise in domestic terrorism cases” during his five years as a Justice Department prosecutor focused on national security and counterterrorism, he said in an interview, culminating in his work assisting colleagues in Washington reel in alleged participants in the Capitol riot.

One of the cases he helped with was that of Gina Bisignano, a Louis Vuitton-clad salon owner from Beverly Hills who gained notoriety for shouting “They will not take away our Trumpy Bear” through a bullhorn on Jan. 6. Bisignano initially pleaded guilty to six federal charges, but later sought to withdraw her plea.

“It was the experience of working on those cases and seeing ordinary American citizens, radicalized enough to invade the U.S. Capitol for the first time since the War of 1812, that got me thinking more seriously about how broken our information system is,” Rollins said.

Among other ideas, he proposes to revive and modernize the Fairness Doctrine, a Cold War-era law that required broadcasters to report evenhandedly on political topics.

“That doctrine wasn’t perfect,” Rollins said. “But it did enable us to defeat fascism and win the Cold War because we didn’t waste time debating nonsense, like whether the polio vaccine had microchips in it, or whether the moon landing was faked, or whether it was actually Nixon who beat Kennedy in 1960.”

Rollins said he was first inspired to pursue a career in public service by the Sept. 11 attacks, which took place when he was a junior in high school. He considered joining the military, but was discouraged by laws that still discriminated against gay service members.

“I wanted to enlist, but I had a government that told me that there was something defective about who I was,” Rollins said. He chose the law instead, clerking for Jacqueline Nguyen, a federal appeals court judge, before becoming a prosecutor.

Unseating an incumbent is an expensive proposition, but Rollins is showing an ability to raise the kind of money that could carry him into a general election.

He has raised a little more than $1 million since the start of his campaign, lagging behind the nearly $1.9 million Calvert has raised this cycle. As of mid-May, Calvert had most of that cash — $1.2 million — still on hand, while Rollins had just shy of $445,428 left heading into Tuesday’s primary.

Rollins’s largest donors are three PACs focused on L.G.B.T.Q. issues, including the political wing of the Congressional L.G.B.T.Q.+ Equality Caucus, which donated $5,000 and endorsed his campaign. More than $145,200 of his war chest came from people who gave less than $200.

Take Back the House 2022, a joint fund-raising committee led by Republican leaders, has given $95,575 to Calvert. Corporate PACs, including those affiliated with Northrop Grumman, Booz Allen Hamilton and Raytheon, are also among Calvert’s biggest financial supporters.

Through a campaign spokesman, Calvert declined an interview, but emailed a statement.

“Riverside County families are confronting a number of challenges in their daily lives,” he said. “Between record-breaking gas prices, high food costs, and baby formula shortages, most of these challenges were created under President Biden’s failed leadership.”

“I have consistently spoken out against political or any other kind of violence,” he added.

Although national Republicans say they aren’t worried about Calvert, the new 41st District has become more Democratic. It now includes Palm Springs, a left-leaning city that Rollins has made his base. And for the first time, it contains more registered Democrats than Republicans. The area voted for Trump by just one percentage point in 2020.

Official Democratic Party groups, daunted by President Biden’s low approval ratings and by a national map that is forcing them to defend dozens of seats, have yet to show interest in the race.

But Rollins has drawn about $65,000 in support from Welcome PAC, a relatively new Democratic-aligned outfit that applies insurgent tactics to support center-left candidates in swing districts.

Liam Kerr, a founder of the group, said that Rollins was the committee’s first major investment because Calvert had rarely faced a serious challenge, and because the district ought to be winnable for the right Democratic candidate.

“People are consuming a lot of polarization porn and underestimating how many swing voters there are out there,” Kerr said.

Privately, many Democratic campaign strategists are skeptical that voters will reward their party for focusing on the Capitol siege.

They describe it as a “base issue,” or rank the topic somewhere below higher priorities for voters, such as inflation or abortion rights. What preoccupies the Beltway, they say, doesn’t always resonate out in the districts where congressional majorities are won and lost.

Which is not to say that Democrats aren’t talking about Jan. 6 at all. The Center for American Progress Action Fund has commissioned a monthslong research project to learn how best to go after the MAGA brand and portray pro-Trump Republicans as insurrectionists and extremists, and has disseminated its findings to Democratic strategists and groups.

And next week, the House committee that has been investigating the Capitol riot will hold its first public hearing on its findings, scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern on Thursday — prime-time viewing. Although the panel is bipartisan, Democrats plan to use the hearings to highlight Republicans’ links to the Capitol rioters, culminating in a final report to be delivered a few weeks before Election Day in November.

Rollins doesn’t necessarily have the primary sewn up. Shrina Kurani, a charismatic engineer who is running as a problem-solver who can address California’s never-ending water crises, has her share of admirers among Democrats.

But if Rollins performs well on Tuesday and starts to gain momentum, expect to hear more about Jan. 6.

Alan Feuer contributed reporting.

  • The day before the Capitol riot in 2021, Mike Pence’s chief of staff is said to have warned the vice president’s lead Secret Service agent that Donald Trump was going to turn publicly against Pence, and there could be a security risk to him because of it, Maggie Haberman reports.

  • Peter Navarro, a White House adviser to Trump who defied a subpoena to provide information to the House committee investigating the Capitol attack, was charged with contempt of Congress.

  • Could a Republican really be mayor of liberal Los Angeles in 2023? It’s in the realm of possibility given the strength of Rick Caruso, a billionaire mall mogul who has become a front-runner in the mayor’s race, thanks in part to his tough-on-crime message. Jennifer Medina and Jill Cowan have the story.


Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

On Politics regularly features work by Times photographers. Here’s what Pete Marovich told us about capturing the image above:

I was assigned to cover a House Judiciary Committee markup session that had been called to debate the Protecting Our Kids Act, a package of gun control measures including an increase of the minimum age to buy certain firearms.

During the hearing, I noticed Kristin Song sitting next to a poster of her son Ethan Song.

From a quick Google search, I learned that Ethan had died in a gun accident in 2018 at the age of 15. He and a friend had apparently been playing with a firearm at his friend’s home in Guilford, Conn., when it discharged and killed him.

Kristin Song was the only obvious person in the hearing room who had lost someone to guns, so I felt I had to make a photo of her. Lawmakers facing her throughout the hearing could clearly see her and the poster.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you on Monday.

— Blake

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.