Shadow of intern ends Condit's life in politics

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The Independent US

Some might say that Gary Condit's political career ended on the day Chandra Levy, the 24-year-old intern he was secretly dating, disappeared in Washington last May, an event that transformed him from a cautious, behind-the-scenes player on Capitol Hill into tabloid fodder of the most lurid sort.

Others would point to the disastrous television interview the Californian congressman gave last August, in which he came across as evasive, callous and a man with much to hide – even though, as he repeatedly pointed out, he had not been formally accused of any crime.

Yesterday, the ignominious end to Mr Condit's 30 years in politics became official. Voters in his district, the farmlands of California's Central Valley, rejected him by a wide margin in Tuesday's Democratic Party primary, opting instead for a former protégé of Mr Condit, the state assembly member Dennis Cardoza.

There was only ever one election issue, and that was Chandra. It was not made explicit – Mr Cardoza, perhaps wisely, chose to steer clear of the subject, and Mr Condit certainly wasn't going to draw attention to it – but it dominated media coverage of the race, as well as political chit-chat among the residents of Modesto and the other dusty farming cities in California's 18th congressional district.

"Every time you look at him, it just reminds you of Chandra Levy," one former supporter, 66-year-old Luis Rose, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The very fact that Mr Condit contested the election at all was a sign of his doggedness and, his detractors would say, his utter lack of contrition. For a long time he remained obstinately silent on the subject of Ms Levy, and indeed not until his third interview with the Washington police did he admit that there was an affair at all, something he has still not acknowledged in public.

He raised further suspicion by disposing of personal items in a rubbish tip a full mile from his house, and by refusing to submit to a lie-detector test run by the police.

His lawyers also tried to get Anne Marie Smith, a flight attendant, to sign an affidavit declaring she never had an affair with him – a manoeuvre that led Ms Smith to denounce Mr Condit to the FBI.

The story, which became a media feeding frenzy in the style of the O J Simpson trial or the Monica Lewinsky saga, was dropped overnight on 11 September – which perhaps emboldened Mr Condit to seek re-election. He waged an energetic grassroots campaign, knocking on doors and holding small meetings, in the hope of calling in every last political favour in the Modesto area.

Mr Cardoza, by contrast, barely campaigned in the district at all, spending most of his time raising funds for the November general election. He still won the primary by 55.3 per cent to Mr Condit's 37.5 per cent.

"Today the people of the Central Valley stood up for their values – the values that are central to their lives," Mr Cardoza said, as his victory became apparent on Tuesday night.

At about the same time, a drawn Mr Condit emerged from his house in a purple fleece sweatshirt and jeans and made a brief statement, thanking his remaining supporters. "I appreciate their support, their love. I will never forget that," he said.

His anger at the media became evident a few moments later, when the lawn sprinkler system suddenly revved into action, drenching the assembled television crews.

¿ Tuesday was also a key date in the race for the post of California Governor, the most powerful state office in the US. The incumbent, Gray Davis, won the Democratic primary. The Republican race produced an intriguing upset. Bill Simon, a businessman with no political experience, trounced Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, whose left-wing campaign put off Republicans.