Sheila James Kuehl, a member of Harvard's Board of Overseers, won the Democratic primary in her California state senate district by a 2-to-1 margin Tuesday night.
The 23rd Senate District includes Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and part of Los Angeles. It is strongly Democratic, and Kuehl is widely expected to beat Republican Daniel B. Rego in November. If she wins, Kuehl will become the first openly gay state senator in California.
Kuehl, a three-term member of the state assembly who was endorsed by Gov. Gray Davis, was challenged in the primary by Wally Knox, another state assembly representative.
"It was very hard fought," said Kuehl of the primary campaign, where she spent $1.2 million. "But it was a lopsided win."
David J. Bender, a long-time friend of Kuehl's who talked with her throughout the campaign, said her strong ties to leaders in state government helped her campaign.
"[Kuehl] made it clear she was very much a part of the Democratic leadership," said Bender, who is also a contributing editor at George magazine. "She would come in with a lot of clout with the governor and that's important for any legislator."
In the assembly, Kuehl worked on health care reform, water pollution and child support, among other issues.
Last fall, she negotiated a health maintenance organization reform package with the governor. She then sponsored a measure in the assembly giving patients the right to sue their HMOs under certain circumstances.
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