MODESTO — Rep. Gary Condit, dogged by scandal since the May disappearance of a Washington, D.C., intern, said Friday he will seek re-election to Congress.
Condit kept his plans silent until 4:15 p.m. Friday, when he arrived at the Stanislaus County courthouse to file papers for re-election. Friday was the deadline for congressional candidates to enter the 2002 campaign.
“It was a very difficult decision for me,” Condit said. “It took some time to think about and I’ve represented the (Central) valley for a long time and I’ve done a good job for the people of the valley.”
Looking weary but flashing his trademark smile, Condit arrived with his son Chad and daughter Cadee to run the toughest race of his congressional career, which started in 1989.
He starts with a Democratic primary race against his longtime protege, Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza of Atwater, a former Condit aide who once hired Chad Condit as his legislative chief of staff.
“I expected him to try and run for re-election,” Cardoza said. “He probably sees this as one way he can redeem himself some way.”
Once virtually unbeatable, Condit’s hold was shaken in May, when Modesto resident Chandra Levy, an intern for the Bureau of Prisons in Washington, went missing. As the weeks passed, questions mounted about their relationship and Condit became a staple of supermarket tabloids and cable TV talk shows.
Eventually Condit, 53 and married, acknowledged a romantic relationship with Levy, according to a police source. But he kept silent publicly for more than three months, finally giving a series of poorly received print and broadcast interviews in which he said he had “very close” relations with Levy but denied any involvement in her disappearance.
Chandra Levy’s mother, Susan, and brother, Adam, said they had no comment on Condit’s decision Friday.
During the summer, Condit’s negative reviews led his son to say his father shouldn’t run again, a position he reversed Friday.
“He should run,” Chad Condit said. “He’s right to run.”
Condit immediately faced questions about Levy Friday, which he deflected, saying the media would have to decide if his campaign would focus on the issues.
“You guys will have to decide if you’re going to be fair to me or not and whether that’s your main issue,” Condit said. “I’m going to dwell on my record and what I’ve done for the valley and what I’m going to do for the future.”
If early reactions to his decision are a gauge, that future may end in March.
“I think it’s a good time for him to back out,” said Susan Davis, a Democrat from Turlock who’s voted for Condit often but won’t this time.
Condit should have been more candid about Levy, said Republican Modesto Councilman Armour Smith, a former supporter who said he won’t vote for him again. “He made us all wait. We’re still waiting. Is he ever going to come clean?”
The politician whose career first started with election in 1972 to the Ceres city council, gave little indication of his future until earlier this week, when he sent a letter to his constituents.
The letter praised President Bush’s war on terrorism, reminded them of his role on the House Intelligence Committee and informed them of his meetings with local security officials to discuss terrorism concerns.
That was another part of the unusual air of mystery that surrounded Condit’s intentions, with congressional colleagues saying he had not shared his plans with them.
The once popular Condit has been ostracized by his own party. Prominent Democrats, including California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, are backing Cardoza.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Friday it will remain neutral in the primary race.
“Hold on to your hat,” said state Sen. Dick Monteith of Modesto, an erstwhile Condit ally who is seeking the Republican nomination for the seat.
It will be apparent quickly whether the race between Condit and Cardoza veers from the issues to Levy, Monteith said. On Friday, Condit said it was anyone’s right to run for office and that he and Cardoza are friendly.
Cardoza disputed that Friday.
“There’s no question there’s tension between us,” Cardoza said. “You know, any time you have someone who is being challenged, they take offense to that. But no one gives us divine right to the seats we hold as elected officials. If he’s upset with me for running, that’s the way it goes.”
Those tensions, said California Republican Party spokesman Rob Stutzman, mean “a rather brutal primary between the two of them.”
Still, Stutzman said, the district is so Democratic that it would take a brutal campaign for the Republicans to win the seat.
Condit, who had more than $315,000 in his campaign treasury at the end of the last reporting period in June, has not raised any money since then, Cadee Condit said. Cardoza is considered one of the Legislature’s most successful fund-raisers.
Condit submitted 1,500 voter signatures with his campaign papers to accompany the 1,939 valid signatures he submitted earlier.
A candidate must have 3,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot or pay a filing fee. Condit will pay the fee if he doesn’t have enough valid signatures.
Adding to Condit’s woes, California Democrats dramatically reconfigured his district in agriculture-rich central California as part of the once-a-decade redrawing of electoral boundaries that follows the Census.
Associated Press Writers Mark Sherman in Washington and Don Thompson and Jim Wasserman in Sacramento contributed to this report.