Condit loses primary to former aide

American congressman Gary Condit has lost the Los Angeles Democratic congressional primary to a former aide.

American congressman Gary Condit has lost the Los Angeles Democratic congressional primary to a former aide.

Meanwhile, conservative businessman Bill Simon upset the moderate former mayor of Los Angeles in the Republican gubernatorial contest.

Simon, a political newcomer, rocketed from obscurity in the campaign’s final weeks to overtake Richard Riordan, long considered a shoo-in to face Gov Gray Davis in November. Davis, running nearly unopposed, easily won the Democratic nomination.

Simon had 280,607 votes, or 47%, with 22% of precincts reporting. Riordan had 168,388 votes, or 28%; and Secretary of State Bill Jones had 135,186 votes, or 23%.

After a congressional campaign overshadowed by the Chandra Levy scandal, Dennis Cardoza handily beat Condit, his mentor and former friend. With 65% of precincts reporting, Cardoza had 8,707 votes, or 54%. Condit had 6,130 votes, or 38%.

Condit’s bid to keep the central California seat he held for 13 years was dominated by the disappearance of Chandra Levy, the 24-year-old Washington intern last seen on April 30.

Condit, 53, admitted he had an affair with Levy, according to Washington police sources. But they have said he is not a suspect in her disappearance.

Condit campaigned like never before in a reconfigured district in which 40% of the voters had never seen his name on a ballot.

He discussed issues at coffee shops, knocked on doors and shook just about any hand that reached out to him. But Cardoza, 42, wrested cash and endorsements from former Condit supporters.

’’I have done my job as a congressman. I have conducted myself as a gentleman and dignified. The only thing different is the intrigue of what’s happened over the last summer and the fact that you’re all here,’’ the congressman told reporters after voting yesterday morning.

The gubernatorial contest had taken a startling turn in recent weeks as Simon transformed a 30-point deficit in polls into a lead over Riordan, who had been considered a sure thing for the nomination.

Despite the hotly contested primary, election officials said voter turnout was extremely low and could be the worst in the state’s history. It was California’s first gubernatorial primary in March.

Riordan, 71, ran partly at the urging of a White House eager for Republicans to retake California. But he alienated the conservative voters who make up the Republican Party’s base by supporting abortion rights, gun control and gay rights.

That gave an opening to the anti-abortion Simon, a 50-year-old investor and political novice with a solid Republican pedigree. His father, William E. Simon, was treasury secretary under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

’’We feel good ... our message is getting through to the voters,’’ Simon told reporters as he watched returns at the state Republican Party’s election night party.

Riordan also plummeted in the polls as Davis poured some 10 million dollars into an unprecedented barrage of attack ads against him.

’’The main goal has to be to replace Gray Davis. He’s a disgrace to this state,’’ Riordan told reporters minutes after polls closed. ‘‘I will work with whoever the nominee is to get rid of Gray Davis and get some real leadership in California.’’

The Riordan-v-Simon contest widened the split in the California Republican Party between moderates and conservatives.

Riordan urged the Republicans not to nominate Simon, warning that he is too far to the right to beat Davis in November. Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters in California.

For their part, Simon’s backers questioned whether Riordan was a bona fide Republican and accused him of sacrificing party principles.

Meanwhile, in a newly created Los Angeles County congressional district, Democrat Linda Sanchez hoped to join her sister Loretta Sanchez in the House.

If elected, they would be the first sisters to serve in Congress. Voters also weighed six propositions, including an initiative to soften the state’s term limits law. That measure lagged in early returns.

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