Former Protege Defeats Gary Condit in Closely Watched Primary

Rep. Gary Condit lost to a former aide in Tuesday's Democratic primary after an underdog campaign in which he couldn't shake free of the scandal over a missing Washington intern.

Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza pulled away in the closely watched race, leading 2-to-1 everywhere but in Condit's home county.

With 68 percent of precincts reporting, Cardoza had 9,231 votes, or 54 percent, to 6,361 votes, or 37 percent, for Condit. Four other candidates split the rest.

"I believe he no longer can do his job effectively," Cardoza said of Condit, his former mentor. "He doesn't have the relationships with his colleagues or with the voters of this district."

Ignored by his fellow Democrats and unable to shake the scrutiny of his relationship with intern Chandra Levy, Condit for the first time had to invest his own money in his campaign.

"I have done my job as a congressman. I have conducted myself as a gentleman," Condit told a crowd of reporters after voting in Ceres. "The only thing different is the intrigue of what's happened over the last summer and the fact that you're all here."

Condit's stiffest challenge came from Cardoza, his 42-year-old protege and former friend who will face GOP state Sen. Dick Monteith of Modesto in November's general election.

Condit, 50, campaigned like never before in a reconfigured 18th Congressional District that now includes an urban slice of Stockton along with its largely rural base, a district in which 40 percent of the voters had never seen his name on a ballot.

Condit discussed issues at coffee shops, knocked on doors in the final days and shook just about any hand that reached out to him. The son of a Baptist preacher, Condit took to the pulpit at a black church, met with Muslims and even spread his message on Spanish airwaves in a bid to reach the multicultural electorate.

It was too little, too late for some longtime Condit supporters who switched to Cardoza.

"I think still to this day I would have kept my vote for him if he had spoken sooner about the Levy situation," said Sylvia Vela of Modesto.

Others stood by him on Tuesday.

"I'm a Christian. God forgives us. I forgive him," said Sam Threet of Modesto, who nevertheless said Condit should have been more forthcoming about his relationship with Levy.

With Cardoza outspending him 3-to-1, Condit was forced to loan his campaign $50,000 to send out mailers in the final week.

A year ago none of this would have seemed possible.

The moderate to conservative Democrat was a political fixture who defended powerful agricultural interests and earned support from both parties in the nation's richest farm belt.

Condit won every election from Ceres City Council to mayor to county supervisor and state assemblyman.

He was elected to Congress in 1989 during a special election to replace Tony Coelho, who resigned when he got caught in a junk bond scheme. He never had to worry about re-election.

Then Levy, a 24-year-old woman from Modesto, vanished without a trace from her Washington apartment April 30. Police sources say Condit admitted having an affair with her, but he is not a suspect in her disappearance.

While the campaign focused mainly on issues such as air quality, double-digit unemployment and agriculture, the topic of Levy hung like a shadow. "It's the elephant in the room," Cardoza said during the campaign.

Protesters tracked Condit to public appearances, calling for his resignation and challengers referred to "character."

Party allies, including Gov. Gray Davis, the state's two U.S. senators and numerous colleagues all distanced themselves from Condit.

While Condit remained mum on his re-election plans late into the election season, Cardoza and others entered the race and began to siphon money and endorsements from his once rock-solid support base.

Condit decided to seek re-election at the last minute, filing his papers less than an hour before the deadline on Dec. 7.