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CAMPAIGN 2000

Kuehl, Scott Declare Victory in Tough Races

State Senate: On the Republican side, Ventura County Supervisor Judy Mikels is trailing Assemblyman Tom McClintock.

March 08, 2000|HILARY E. MACGREGOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl surged ahead in the 23rd Senate District Democratic primary and claimed victory early Wednesday in the hard-fought campaign, while Assemblyman Jack Scott jubilantly declared a win in the 21st Senate District.

"I honestly think we won!" Kuehl told supporters in Santa Monica.

With more than half of the precincts reporting, Kuehl led Assemblyman Wally Knox with 50% of the vote, and Scott claimed victory with a 10-point margin over Assemblyman Scott Wildman.

"There ain't no way he can catch us," Scott said. "I'm so numb, I'm so thrilled. I owe so much to so many people."

As Knox left for home with his family just before midnight, his campaign consultant, Larry Levine, virtually conceded defeat.

"At this point I would say it is pretty much settled," Levine said. "It's a pretty big margin to come back from. I've seen it before, but it's pretty hard."

Term limits shaped two of the biggest and costliest legislative races in the state in the two Senate districts in the San Fernando Valley.

In the hard-fought race to succeed Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) in the 23rd District, Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) led Knox (D-Los Angeles) from the start.

In the 21st Senate District, Scott, a former Pasadena City College president, was trailing Wildman (D-Los Angeles) in early returns. But Scott, saying he was the tortoise to Wildman's hare, predicted he would prevail, and minutes before 1 a.m. made his victory speech to a swell of spontaneous applause.

Kuehl and Knox combined spent more than $2 million, making this one of the most expensive state Senate primaries in state history.

A win in the primary in this heavily Democratic district--which includes Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Studio City and Sherman Oaks--is tantamount to victory in November.

The atmosphere was mellow at Kuehl's campaign party at the Victorian restaurant on Main Street in Santa Monica. Children, men with ponytails and leather jackets, and women in shawls ate pizza and chicken wings and greeted friends.

One young man walked up to Kuehl early in the evening and said, "Congratulations on your victory."

But she stopped him, saying it was too early.

Kuehl said she thought she would win the race because she started an early mail campaign in small, issue-focused doses that voters could digest.

"Instead of finding seven pieces in your mailbox on the Saturday before the election, it was as though we acquainted people with my record," Kuehl explained. "That's opposed to what my opponent did. He quickly moved to making false statements about my record on education and gun control."

She said that actually made her happy, because it showed that he was worried.

Although Knox and Kuehl are both liberals who share concerns for the environment, education and health care, they were pitted against each other this year in a race brought about by term limits.

The longtime friends remained civil to each other through forums and mailers until mid-February, when Knox went on the offensive, blasting Kuehl's voting record on education.

Kuehl said she thought that worked against him.

"Even though the myth is that people respond to negative campaigning, I believe in these down-ballot races that people yearn for a clean campaign."

She said she was offended when he attacked her record, but that she won't hold a grudge.

"I like to be a good winner even if there were momentary rifts in our friendship."

Knox appeared at his campaign party at the Conga Room at 10:30 p.m. and would not comment directly on Kuehl's early lead. Instead he spoke of how the National Rifle Assn. had targeted him in recent weeks, sending postcards to their members, urging them to vote for Kuehl.

"The NRA told me that they had 7,000 members in the district, and they mounted a campaign against me. I figured that this was a pretty formidable force," Knox said. "What was absolutely essential was to try and spread the word that the NRA was targeting me for defeat."

In the 21st Senate District, a recent influx of Latino voters and newly registered Armenian voters means Democratic voters now outnumber Republicans 44% to 36%. But the district has been a GOP stronghold for decades, and Wildman or Scott will probably face tough competition from moderate Republican Paul Zee in the fall.

With his voice hoarse from too many speeches, Wildman spent Tuesday walking door to door in his precinct in south Glendale, getting out the vote. He said the feedback was good. Shortly after 8 p.m. with a screen set up, but no results in, Wildman stood at the podium with his wife.

"We'll watch tonight. We'll party. We'll celebrate. You can't ask for more with a bunch of friends," he told the room of supporters.

Scott's campaign director, Will Heron, said this district's fight is Wildman's organization against Scott's money.

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