I'll stand again, says congressman at centre of hunt for missing intern

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Gary Condit, the US congressman whose affair with a missing intern scandalised and obsessed America prior to 11 September, has defied the pundits and declared his intention to seek re-election.

In a suitably dramatic flourish, Mr Condit waited until just 40 minutes before the final deadline to file nomination papers. He then strode through a swarm of reporters outside the Stanislaus County elections office in his California home town of Modesto and declared: "I'm running."

Cynics will point out that running was exactly what Mr Condit spent most of the summer doing – along with ducking and diving, and behaving disingenuously – after details of his affair with his former intern, Chandra Levy, leaked out. The 24-year-old Modesto woman has not been seen since she disappeared from her rented apartment in Washington last May.

Most observers believed that Mr Condit's political career was finished after news of the affair, his role in the police investigation into her disappearance and then the waves of wild rumours which gripped first the nation's gossip-loving capital, and then the country at large.

Though the police insisted – and continue to insist – that Mr Condit was not a suspect, the near-hysteria that surrounded the case was astonishing. There were denials, retractions, a suggestion from Ms Levy's aunt that her niece was pregnant with the congressman's baby, lie-detector tests and the tragic image of the missing woman's parents, persuaded on an almost daily basis to make their pronouncements to the media.

That frenzy reached its zenith late in August when Mr Condit and his trademark grey bouffant were interviewed by ABC television's Connie Chung. At the time, it appeared to seal Mr Condit's fate: he denied playing any part in Ms Levy's disappearance, but he came across as cold, slimy and uncaring.

Even at that point he refused to admit the affair – something he had admitted to the police. "Well, Connie, I've been married for 34 years, and I've not been a perfect man, and I've made my share of mistakes," he said. "But, um, out of respect for my family, and out of a specific request from the Levy family, I think it's best that I do not get into those details." But the one thing that may have persuaded Mr Condit that he has a chance of persuading next year's voters in California's 18th district to elect him for a seventh term, can be summed up in a date: 11 September.

Now – after the attacks on New York and Washington, after the images of falling towers, flames, rubble, the missing, the dead, Osama bin Laden and the war in Afghan-istan – the Gary Condit story seems almost innocent.

No one has forgotten that a young women remains missing, and has probably been murdered. But America's obsession with the Condit story was always more about a US congressman's adulterous affair with a woman 30 years his junior, than it was about trying to find a missing person. Quite simply, after the terrorist attacks most people have been thinking about other things.

That, at least, is what Mr Condit must he hoping. As he filed his application on Friday evening, he said it had been hard to make up his mind.

"It was a tough decision, but I've represented [California's central] valley a long time," he told reporters. "I have a great record in Congress, a great record in serving the public ... I'm going to do everything I can do to focus on my record and get people to focus on that. The voters will have to decide that. You guys will have to decide whether you're going to be fair to me or not."

Mr Condit would be foolish to think he is going to have an easy run. He faces a tough Democratic challenger, and should he get through the primary he would face an equally difficult general election. Senior Democrats have said they will not campaign for him.

As far as the media are concerned, while the events of 11 September have made the public think about more serious issues, they have equally left people desperate for some light, distracting entertainment. Mr Condit is about to provide just that.