Rep. Gary Condit received a mixed reaction to the letter he sent Thursday morning to his 200,000-plus constituents.
The California Democrat admitted in his letter that "I am not perfect and have made my share of mistakes," but he also assured voters that he has cooperated fully with the police and the FBI in their efforts to locate missing intern Chandra Levy.
"I have cooperated and worked with law enforcement to find Chandra," Condit said in the letter. "I invited the police to my apartment. I asked the FBI to help."
Joe Vasquez, a retired parks worker who was having coffee and doughnuts Thursday morning at Connie's Donuts in Modesto, the largest town in Condit's Central Valley district, said he thought the letter would help the congressman.
"He probably had an affair with her, but I don't think he had anything to do with her disappearance," Vasquez said. He called Condit "a good representative for the farmers, for everybody here."
But Jerry Bondshu, a Republican who has voted for Condit in the past, said he believes the congressman is a liar.
"As far as I'm concerned, he should have come clean a lot sooner. He's just trying to save his job," he said. "I don't trust him any farther than I can throw him."
The letter was the first of several steps Condit is taking in his effort to gain re-election in 2002. He will talk publicly for the first time Thursday night about his relationship with the 24-year-old Levy during a nationally televised interview. He has also given interviews to two national magazines and will sit down with a local newspaper.
His district is abuzz with Condit talk, as constituents speculate on his attempts to reclaim his political career.
In the letter, Condit says he hopes his relationship with residents of the 18th Congressional District is "strong enough to endure this" and that they will continue to support him.
He writes that the media has accused him of being silent on the case, "but I have not been silent with those in charge of finding Chandra."
"I have answered every single question asked by the police and FBI," Condit writes.
Condit's constituents are wondering if he is going to explain further his reported affair with Levy, who disappeared in Washington, D.C., on May 1. People shopping at the mall or sipping lattes in downtown Modesto, and residents of Condit's own neighborhood in the smaller city of Ceres, all eagerly chatted Wednesday about what they want to hear him say.
"Everybody I've talked to thinks he's got some guilt," said Frank Soares, a retired diesel mechanic who lives in Condit's neighborhood and has known the congressman's family socially for years.
Condit was interviewed Tuesday by People magazine, which plans to have its cover story, picturing Condit with his wife, Carolyn, on newsstands Friday. Condit also will talk to an undisclosed California television station and newspaper as well as Newsweek magazine, according to his spokeswoman, Marina Ein.
Condit, first elected in 1989, has made few public appearances since Levy vanished, but his aides insist he will seek re-election next year.
What he has to say about his relationship with the young woman, a constituent, will go a long way in deciding his political future, political analysts said.
But many voters in the district have grown tired of the wait and are skeptical Condit — a 53-year-old, married father of two — can win back their trust with anything he says.
"If he would have kept his pants zipped I think he'd be all right now ... and he should have told the truth right off the bat," said Melva Soares.
Police interviewed Condit four times. Not until the third interview, more than two months after Levy disappeared, did he acknowledge an affair with her, a police source has said. Still, police have been adamant in declaring that Condit is not a suspect in the case.
There are some die-hard Condit fans left who plan to vote for him despite the scandal.
"I think he has been an effective representative," said Dan Williams, 25, an electrician who lives several blocks from Condit. "I just want to hear that he is going to continue doing the good job he's been doing over the years."
But Soares, for one, wasn't expecting to be persuaded.
"Sure, I'll read that letter," she said sarcastically, pantomiming how she would rip it up and scatter the pieces around her garage.
Some congressional colleagues have said Condit's chances of re-election are slim because of his actions in the Levy case. But several political consultants drew parallels to President Clinton's ability to survive the Monica Lewinsky scandal and earlier allegations of marital affairs.
"He has got to be careful not to put too much focus on himself because Chandra Levy is still missing and there is still a family that's grieving," said Rob Stutzman, a GOP consultant in California. "This is not about Gary Condit. He has to be careful not to dwell too much on his circumstances."
Whit Ayers, an Atlanta-based Republican pollster, said Condit must begin his national television interview with an apology to his constituents.
"He's embarrassed his constituents," Ayers said. "The difficulty is that there are so many unanswered questions that he will probably not be able to answer about the disappearance of Chandra Levy. Inevitably, the story will be incomplete, but at least people will have heard his side for the first time."
Stutzman said he will be looking for something from Condit that explains why he did not immediately provide police a complete account of his relationship with Levy. He also said it is significant whether Condit gives an indication that he still has his wife's support.
The Associated Press contributed to this report