This week, Rep. Gary Condit took the first formal steps toward seeking re-election in 2002, hoping that the new political realities of the war against terrorism might work to his benefit, and emboldened, perhaps, by a notion that he has little to lose.
On Monday, the California Democrat submitted 4,800 signatures — about 1,800 more than is required — to the county election clerks' offices in his 18th Congressional District.
Some Democrats in California worry that the scandal-tainted Condit name could not only cost the party the seat, but damage the ticket in that area of the state. Condit's son Chad is running for an open state Senate seat that overlaps with his father's congressional district, causing Democrats to fret that the Condits could drag down other candidates if they win their respective nominations.
Now that Condit has turned in the necessary signatures, he needs only to file declaration of candidacy papers by Friday, Dec. 7. If he decides to back out of the race after Dec. 7, a court petition would be required to remove his name from the March 5 primary ballot.
Although most Democratic Party operatives interviewed expect Condit to run, some privately say they wouldn't be surprised to see him withdraw — but none of them claim to know what the reclusive Congressman really is thinking.
Condit's office did not return calls seeking comment.
Democrats Line Up
If Condit doesn't drop out of the race before the primary, he is expected to be challenged for the Democratic nomination by several candidates, most prominently state Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza. Cardoza is a former Condit protégé who has represented much of the district and, as chairman of the Assembly Rules Committee, has held a leadership position in this Democrat-dominated state.
Republicans also are looking at a contested primary, with their strongest potential nominee being state Sen. Dick Monteith.
Condit apparently struggled to gather the necessary signatures (his extra 1,800 to the contrary), and Democratic political opponents are questioning the validity of some of them, claiming they were improperly solicited by people who were not registered voters in the district, but were hired by the Condit campaign due to a lack of volunteers. Some of the signatures also are alleged to be from voters outside the district.
The signatures will be examined by the Registrars of Voters in the five counties that make up the 18th Congressional District. Any problem with the signatures must be made known by Nov. 30.
These petitions are the clearest sign yet that Condit is considering running, if not likely to run for re-election despite his admitted affair with Chandra Levy, a 24-year-old former intern who has been missing since May 1.
The Sept. 11 terrorist strikes instantly eclipsed what had been nearly non-stop media coverage of Condit and Levy. Apart from the grand jury subpoena he received two weeks ago for documents related to the case, nary a peep had been heard by or about Condit until his filing on Monday. A few media outlets even interviewed Levy's forlorn parents about "how the world has changed" since Sept. 11.
At this point, the conventional wisdom is that Condit's personal problems are insurmountable and that his congressional career will end in 2002 — possibly as early as Dec. 7, or by the March 5 primary, and if not then, probably in the November general election. Which prompts the question of why he would run at all.