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California voters look to primaries

SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- Californians vote in a primary Tuesday to pick a Republican nominee for governor in what has become a surprisingly tight race and also will decide if Democratic Congressman Gary Condit has a political future.

Voters also will consider a proposition to relax the state's legislative term-limit law.

In the governor's race, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan -- supported by the White House -- is in a tougher-than-expected battle for the GOP nomination.

Recent polls have conservative Bill Simon, a businessman and the son of the late William Simon, secretary of the treasury under President Ford, but himself a political novice, pulling ahead. Secretary of State Bill Jones is also in the race.

"It looks like it has turned into a real horse race between Dick Riordan and myself," Simon said in a recent interview.

"You know, up until two weeks ago, Dick was way ahead in the polls, but in the last couple of weeks, I have surged in part because our message is beginning to resonate through California."

Riordan -- a pro-choice, anti-death penalty Republican -- said he is the only candidate who can beat Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in the fall. "He is the enemy of the state," Riordan said of Davis.

But Simon may have benefited by positioning himself to the right of Riordan in a pitch to the Republican faithful.

"Simon defined himself as the conservative and two-thirds of GOP voters in this primary are conservatives," said Mark Baldassari of the Public Policy Institute of California.

Simon's campaign also has been aided in recent weeks by a multimillion dollar ad blitz by Davis.

Davis, who faces only token opposition in the Democratic primary, has gone after Riordan, who was encouraged to get into the race by the White House in the belief that his moderate GOP positions would play well against Davis in the general election.

Another hot primary race in California involves Condit, politically scarred by damaging questions about his relationship with a missing former government intern.

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Gary Condit must go," said Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile, offering comments that reflect the erosion of party support for Condit.

Brazile, talking Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," said she had little sympathy for Condit, who has blamed the media for his political troubles.

Condit, 53, has represented California Central Valley for more than a decade, but his bid for an eighth term in the state's 18th Congressional District has been complicated by the disappearance of Chandra Levy, linked romantically to the married lawmaker.

Levy, 24, was last seen in Washington this past spring shortly after completing an internship. Police said they found no evidence of wrongdoing and never named any suspects in the case.

Condit emerged as a pivotal figure because of his relationship with Levy. He has refused to publicly describe it, but police sources said he admitted to an affair with the young woman during an interview with investigators.

Levy's family charged that Condit impeded the investigation by initially holding back details about the relationship.

Many fellow Democrats said Condit should not have sought re-election, and the crowded Democratic primary field -- six contenders -- reflects that fact.

Condit has previously coasted to victory, but he is trailing in some polls, and the district has been redrawn, forcing him to reach out to new voters.

Former aide and state assemblyman Dennis Cardoza is the strongest Democratic contender, according to some pundits.

Condit, who for months refused to even talk about the Levy case, has done some media interviews lately saying his re-election would help keep the Levy case in the spotlight.

He told CNN's "Larry King Live" last week that "there was no reason" for him not to run.

While criticized as evasive, Condit insisted he has been forthcoming about the Levy matter, but acknowledged the final judgment rests with voters.

"The public will have to decide whether or not they like my answers to the questions," he said.

Also on Tuesday's ballot is Proposition 45, which would modify a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1990 that limited members of the state Assembly to six years in office and members of the state Senate to eight.

If approved, voters could sign petitions asking that their legislators be allowed to run for re-election for two more terms in the Assembly or for one more term in the Senate. Twenty percent of the voters in a district would have to support such a move.

In Los Angeles County, Linda Sanchez is making a bid to join her sister, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, in Congress. She is one of five Democrats seeking the nomination in the 39th House District, which is heavily Hispanic and Democratic.




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