SACRAMENTO, Calif. – State Democratic leaders meeting here Saturday were under increasing pressure to condemn U.S. Rep. Gary Condit for his relationship with missing Washington intern Chandra Levy.
But they also need him to complete his term so they don't lose his seat in a special election — Condit's San Joaquin Valley district was the only Democratic-held district in the state to back Republican President Bush in the November election.
Republicans already are lining up for the seat, while Democratic politicians are diplomatically expressing interest should Condit's seat become vacant.
"There's blood in the water, and every politician is out there looking at his seat," said Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino.
Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said he's not sure whether Democrats should condemn Condit.
"I'm not prepared to make a decision one way or the other," Hertzberg said Saturday, during a break from the Democratic meeting. "Let's let the facts speak for themselves at the end of the day, and we're not there yet. This is America, still."
On July 6, in a third police interview, the 53-year-old congressman said he and Levy, 24, had an intimate relationship, a police source has said. Condit has denied any connection with her April 30 disappearance, and police have said he is not a suspect.
Even so, there are calls for Democrats to ease Condit out of office, or for the congressman to resign, said Bruce Cain, director of the Institute for Governmental Studies at the University of California's Berkeley campus.
"The question is no longer whether he is finished. The question is when," Cain said.
Condit has been a good match for the seat he has held since 1989.
"You go to a function in Gary Condit's district, there are 6,000 people," Hertzberg said.
As one of the original "Blue Dog" Democrats who often vote with Republicans on fiscal issues, Condit received attention from Bush — until Levy disappeared 11 weeks ago.
Democrats would likely lose the increasingly Republican district in a special election, said Tony Quinn, a former redistricting expert for Republicans and an editor of the California Target Book election guide.
"The only issue right now is does this get so bad he will be forced to leave office and force a special election, or can he hold out long enough for the Democrats to fix up his seat and hold it in the next election?" said Quinn.
Democrats control the California Assembly, Senate and governor's office, and are expected to redraw Condit's district in their favor based on the 2000 population census.
Cain suggested Condit still can have it both ways: he could announce now he won't seek re-election. That might allow him to complete his term as a last favor to his party.