Home District Questions Condit Conduct

In Gary Condit's home district in northern California, many of his constituents still relate to the congressman's conservative Democratic politics.

But after his admission of an affair with missing Federal Bureau of Prisons intern, 24-year-old Chandra Levy, some are beginning to question his personal commitment to family values.

The 18th congressional district, deep in California's heartland, is farm country: conservative, mostly white and small-town America. Condit has built a reputation for himself as a conservative Democrat, specifically over agriculture issues. The district's main town, Modesto, inspired the movie American Graffiti. The region has the highest proportion of families and children in all of California.

Now Modesto is under round-the-clock surveillance by the media.

Journalists are staking out Levy's home, Condit's office, and even the church where Condit's father used to preach. In a town unaccustomed to such attention, the scandal is now giving people second thoughts about their congressman.

"We accepted him as part of the Modesto family," said Virginia Feliciano. "It's not a good example for our children, I'm sorry."

Condit's Seat May Become Competitive

In 30 years representing this community — on the city council, in the state Legislature, and finally in Congress — Condit has never lost an election.

He won his last re-election race, in November, with 67 percent of the vote and his seat was thought to be one of the safest in California. During the upcoming reapportionment, the state's Democratic leadership had even been talking about siphoning off some of Condit's Democratic constituents in order to shore up neighboring districts.

Now they're rethinking that plan, because suddenly the district may be competitive.

"It represents an opportunity for the Republican Party, but it's obvious that Mr. Condit has brought this upon himself," said Jim DeMartini, chairman of the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee.

For now, the GOP is stopping short of calling for Condit's resignation. But on Tuesday, a small group of activists rallied outside the congressman's office, demanding he be more forthcoming with the police and with his constituents.

Blaming the Media

Condit's support has not disappeared altogether. Some blame the media — for what they dismiss as little more than gossip.

"The issue is finding Chandra Levy. That's not being played for the most part. A lot of it is the scandal part on the congressman," said constituent Joe Metcalf.

But at Blondie's café in Condit's hometown of Ceres, the lunchtime conversation inevitably settles on one subject these days.

"I've known him forever and I feel bad what's happened. I'm shocked, really," said Ginger Cook. Condit even attended her first wedding. "Forever I've voted for Gary Condit, and now I'm a little shaky."

In the region they used to call Condit Country, many people are. They still like their congressman's conservative politics — just not his family values.