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Condit Clobbered

Embattled California Congressman Gary Condit's 30-year political career collapsed Tuesday, felled by the scandal over the disappearance last spring of Washington intern Chandra Levy.

Condit, who in six terms in Washington became one of the most powerful members of the state's Democratic delegation, conceded defeat to state Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, a former protege who ended up scorching him in a race dominated by fallout from the Levy scandal.

"I want to thank everybody in the 18th Congressional District for giving me this opportunity," Condit said during a brief appearance before reporters in his hometown of Ceres. "It has been a great opportunity to be in public service and represent them in Washington, and I'll never forget it."

In California's other marquee matchup, conservative political novice Bill Simon won the GOP gubernatorial primary by defeating former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis helped Simon to victory by spending $10 million on ads attacking Riordan.

Condit, battered by relentless publicity about his affair with missing intern Chandra Levy, had insisted on campaigning for re-election even after Democratic leaders abandoned him.

Cardoza, a 42-year-old assemblyman whose positions are virtually identical to Condit's, won with 29,218 votes, or 55 percent, to 19,798 votes, or 37 percent, for Condit.

Cardoza said Condit, his former ally and mentor, could no longer function as a congressman.

"He doesn't have the relationships with his colleagues or with the voters of this district. He has a lot of personal challenges still to deal with this case," Cardoza said.

Condit, a "Blue Dog" conservative Democrat who defended powerful agricultural interests and earned support from both parties in the nation's richest farm belt, won every previous election he entered, from Ceres City Council to mayor to county supervisor and state assemblyman.

He was elected to Congress in 1989 to replace Tony Coelho, another favorite son who stumbled from grace. Coelho resigned when he got caught in a junk bond scheme.

Condit's seat was unchallenged until Levy, a 24-year-old from Modesto, vanished without a trace from her Washington, D.C., apartment in May. Police sources say Condit admitted having an affair with her, but he's not a suspect in her disappearance.

Condit had said that his campaign was the Levy family's best hope for finding their daughter, suggesting that her case would get little attention otherwise.

Her father, Dr. Robert Levy, wouldn't comment Tuesday night on that claim, or on Condit's loss, other than to say "it's sort of what we were expecting." The Levys couldn't vote against Condit; like many of his former constituents, they were left out of the reconfigured district.

Unable to shake the scandal, Condit ran for his reputation as much as for the seat he has held for 13 years.

"Life deals you all kinds of situations and it's not the situations, it's how you handle it," Condit told reporters as his campaign drew to a close.

"I've tried to be a gentleman, I've tried to be dignified," he said. "You guys have pretty much taken the hide off my career."