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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.

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Jackson's reelection seems all but assured. According to an Oct. 21 poll by We Ask America, a polling operation in Springfield, Ill., 58 percent of likely voters in his district, which represents parts of Chicago and south suburban Cook and Will Counties, say they plan to vote for Jackson. That's twice as many who say they will vote for his closest competitor, Republican Brian Woodworth, who received 27 percent. (The poll involved 819 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.)

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So far, the Democratic Party of Illinois has remained quiet about Jackson’s situation and will not discuss any next steps should he remain absent from his office into 2013 or become embroiled in a trial. If Jackson were to step down, a special election would be required to determine his replacement.

“Nobody is talking about that. He’s the nominee of the party. We’re hopeful he gets the proper and complete health care he needs to get back to work as quickly as possible,” says Steve Brown, the party spokesman in Illinois.

Critics say Jackson's continued absence from Congress won't help the southern Chicago area, which is reeling from economic turmoil such as high foreclosure rates and unemployment.

The Democratic Party continues to support Jackson through this election in the expectation that, if he were eventually to step down, it could cherry-pick a successor to run for his seat. “What we see here in Will County is the same type of politics we see in Chicago with the local Democrats. They’re more focused on protecting a seat than they are in doing what is best for the county,” says Cory Singer, a Republican who is running for executive of Will County.

Professor Bennett of DePaul says Jackson does not have incentive to return to work because his staff members can perform essential day-to-day tasks.

“They can hum along almost with perpetuity if it comes down to it,” he says. “But after the election, at some point, if his situation isn’t clarified or if he’s not able to come back, there will be pressure on him to step aside. I just don’t think the Democrats in Illinois are at that point yet.”

Jackson isn't either – and he probably won't be, absent deteriorating health or a strong criminal case against him.

“There’s no reason for him to give it up. He can hide the entire time. What’s going to stop him from collecting his paycheck?” asks Debbie Halvorson, a former US Rep. of the 11th Congressional District in Illinois, who lost to Jackson in the March Democratic primary. When the allegations against Jackson surfaced in the Blagojevich case, Ms. Halvorson was the first to ask that Jackson step down to prevent the party from further disgrace related to the Blagojevich saga.

“I wish him the best, but he should be thinking about the people by stepping aside. It should not be about him,” she says. “The district should be about the people.” 

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