In the strongest sign yet that Rep. Gary Condit won't seek re-election, his political ally and protege Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza plans to run for his seat, a state senator said Monday.

"As of today, [Cardoza's] running for Congress," said state Sen. Don Perata, an Oakland Democrat who has a leading role redrawing political boundaries.

But Cardoza, an Atwater Democrat, said he has not spoken to Condit in 14 weeks, adding that he's not sure if he will run for Congress or the state Senate.

"I'm not going to make a decision on what I'm running for until after the [redistricting] lines are out," he said. "It's all speculation at this point."

Cardoza, who cannot seek re-election in the Assembly because of term limits, has long been considered a front-runner if Condit does not seek a seventh term.

But he has always said out of respect for Condit -- his political mentor -- that he won't run unless the congressman steps aside.

As Condit continues to swoon from the scandal surrounding missing intern Chandra Levy speculation has increased that Cardoza would run for the seat, which overlaps his Assembly turf.

Word that Cardoza plans to run for Congress was considered an even clearer sign that Condit plans to fold the political map on an area that had come to be known as "Condit Country."

Even before Cardoza signaled a run, the door to challengers had been opened by Condit himself. Last week the embattled congressman issued a statement saying he hadn't decided yet whether he would run next year.

"If you're really actively considering taking a run again, you don't even open the door," said Ken DeBow, professor of government at California State University, Sacramento. "If he's running, he would be doing everything possible to keep people at arm's length from that seat."

Despite Cardoza's comments, his spokesman Doug White did not dispute Perata's account but said his boss is waiting to make any announcement.

A Condit spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

If Condit does run, he faces what political analysts say will be an uphill battle. Polls have shown voters in the district -- who have elected him every time by a landslide -- would not vote for him again.

In addition, lawmakers involved in the process of redistricting have proposed a district that stretches well beyond Condit's base of support in Stanislaus County and includes almost 40 percent new voters.

Other Democrats have been mentioned as possible candidates for the seat, but none has made a commitment without a final word from Condit.

Sen. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who is termed out of the Legislature, also said he would seek the district if Condit does not seek re-election.

Condit and Cardoza have been friends and political allies for years. Cardoza worked for Condit and Condit family members continue to work for Cardoza.

It would seem that Cardoza would not announce his intentions to other party members if he hadn't received some word from Condit's camp.

"You kind of think, 'I wonder what Cardoza knows?"' said DeBow.