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Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. beset by difficulties, but Election Day isn't one

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) of Illinois has been absent from Congress since June, citing his health. He's also under investigation by a House ethics panel and, reportedly, the FBI. But he looks poised to sail to reelection, polling shows.

By Staff writer / November 2, 2012

In this October 2011 photo, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., is seen during the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File

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Chicago

When residents of the Second Congressional District in Illinois vote Tuesday, polls show, they are likely to choose a candidate who may continue to be absent from his post due to poor health or because he may soon be embroiled in a federal trial for fraud. Or both.

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Both scenarios appear possible for US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., the incumbent Democrat who has held his House seat for 17 years and is seeking reelection amid speculation that he may not be in a position to serve.

The US Constitution lets Congress decide whether a representative who can no longer serve should stay or go. No members of Mr. Jackson’s party have called for his ouster from the ticket, and so far none has suggested that he vacate his seat if elected. Democrats are eager to keep the House seat in the party, and Jackson's name recognition has been a proven fundraiser, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.

“We used to take the two state [political] parties seriously as some kind of construct [for enforcing certain conduct], but the fact of the matter is, they’re both loose organizations and don’t have the ability to discipline people like they way they used to,” says political scientist Larry Bennett of DePaul University in Chicago.

Jackson was once a rising star of his party, seen as a young, fresh face who was connected to the civil rights protest era through his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Clouds first appeared over the younger Jackson through his connection with former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year federal prison term for wrongdoing related to a pay-for-play scheme involving President Obama’s former US Senate seat. A House Ethics panel is investigating whether Jackson tried to bribe Mr. Blagojevich to get appointed to the seat, or at least tried to engage in the process through an emissary. Jackson denies the allegations.

News reports also say Jackson is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for improperly using campaign funds to decorate his Washington home. According to the Chicago Tribune, a Washington area furniture store operator has acknowledged cooperation with federal authorities, and authorities say an indictment is imminent.

Jackson is also reported to have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental-health problem, and he has not reported to work since early June. He currently resides at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and his family has put its $2.5 million townhouse in Washington on the market. In late October, Jackson sent an 85-second robocall to constituents to ask for their patience, telling them that “a return to work on your behalf” is “against medical advice.”

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