Moments of Truth

Today brings some big moments of political truth — for Rep. Gary Condit, for former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's seemingly certain boom-to-bust gubernatorial effort, for the White House's attempt to unilaterally change the GOP's image in the Golden State, and for term limits.

The embattled/beleagured/scandal-plagued/choose-your-term Rep. Condit faces his voters for the first time since Chandra Levy, a Washington intern, disappeared last spring.

Here's Condit's first hitch: they're not all his longtime constituents. The decennial redistricting has thrown Condit into a new 18th district with about 200,000 new voters, many of whom appear predisposed not to vote for him.

Here's the second hitch: he faces a tough primary challenge from a former protege and now a state assemblyman named Dennis Cardoza, who has led Condit in the polls by hefty margins all winter.

The GOP is ready to pounce should Condit somehow win the primary, but the betting is on Cardoza, and with the newly redistricted seat now a bit more Democratic-leaning, if Cardoza wins the primary, it's possible that the national Republican party may opt out entirely.

The Right to Fight Gray Davis

The Republican primary for the right to take on Democratic Gov. Gray Davis is the story about which politicos on both coasts are buzzing.

After all, governor of California is arguably the second-biggest job in U.S. politics with an economy the size of France's. Also, this is the first big contested primary of the midterm election year, in which both parties are facing their share of intra-party battles in key statewide races, so the outcome may offer some lessons for other family fights going forward.

After allowing the White House to draft him into running, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has turned a race that was his to lose into a race he could well lose.

Karl Rove and Company — that's the White House political operation — persuaded Riordan to run in the belief that his candidacy, as a politically successful, moderate pro-choicer, would help change the image of the Republican party in California and nationally, giving Bush a 2004 beachhead in the Golden State.

But Riordan has gotten squeezed, by millions of dollars in TV ads — from the right — by his multimillionaire primary rival William Simon, and from the left by Davis, in an apparently successful bit of pre-primary meddling.

The more conservative Simon has hit Riordan for his moderate views and for supporting the fiscal policies of Bill Clinton, while Davis has bashed Riordan for being muckety on abortion and the death penalty.

Simon also has benefited from TV ads and from stump support from his old boss, Rudolph Giuliani.

A third Republican candidate, Secretary of State Bill Jones, is pretty much viewed as a non-factor in a primary that has turned into a dead heat between Simon, who was at 5 percent in the polls late last year, and Riordan, who has watched his hefty double-digit primary lead vanish into thin air in reputable nonpartisan polling.

Should Riordan lose, Wednesday morning quarterbacks probably will say that Riordan's candidacy was fatally flawed because, as a moderate in a field that includes two perfectly acceptable conservatives (including one with the financial firepower to win), Riordan had no natural base. Under the onslaught, he has been forced to try to appeal to conservatives now that his ideological credentials are in question.

The White House has been silent on Riordan's progress, or lack thereof, but the sympathetic, Washington-based Republican Leadership Council recently went up with a TV spot attacking Simon.

Proposition 45

Also on the ballot today: Proposition 45, an effort to weaken the state's term limits. If passed, the proposition would allow state assembly members to extend their service from six years to 10 and state senators from eight years to 12, but only if 20 percent of their district's voters sign petitions to put them on the ballot again.

California's passage of terms limits 12 years ago naturally got the most attention of any statewide effort anywhere to restrict the number of times a lawmaker can seek re-election to a particular office, and while efforts to roll back term limits laws have popped up across the country lately, none have gotten the attention that California's will if it succeeds.