- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) In his first bid for office, conservative businessman Bill Simon led in early returns yesterday as he tried to upset Los Angeles' ex-mayor for the Republican nomination for governor.

In central California farm country, Rep. Gary A. Condit fought for his political life in a Democratic primary for Congress.

With 2 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Simon had 63,678 votes, or 47 percent. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan had 44,910 votes, or 33 percent. Secretary of State Bill Jones had 24,721 votes, or 18 percent.

The winner will face Gov. Gray Davis, who easily won the Democratic primary against little-known opponents.

The gubernatorial contest had taken a startling turn in recent weeks when Mr. Simon transformed a 30-point deficit in polls into a lead over Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 homosexual rights.

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

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

As he went to vote yesterday, the former Los Angeles mayor accused the governor of "trying to hijack the Republican primary" by "demonizing" Mr. Riordan.

In yesterday's other high-profile race, Mr. Condit, a 13-year House veteran seeking nomination for another term, faced the toughest challenge of his career.

His main threat was state Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, 42, a former Condit aide who wrested cash and endorsements from former Condit supporters.

Mr. Condit's bid to keep his Central Valley seat was shadowed by the disappearance of Chandra Ann Levy, the 24-year-old congressional intern last seen April 30.

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

Mr. Condit campaigned like never before in a reconfigured district in which 40 percent 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.

"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 Riordan vs. Simon contest widened the split in the California Republican Party between liberals and conservatives.

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

For their part, Mr. Simon's backers questioned whether Mr. 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 Rep. Loretta Sanchez in the House. If elected, they would be the first sisters to serve in Congress.

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