Key contests that may shape next year's Congress; Jenrette, convicted in 'Abscam,' doggedly seeks reelection
Washington — Rep. John W. Jenrette Jr., convicted of accepting a bribe in a recent "Abscam" trial, is taking his case to the voters of South Carolina's Sixth District.
The second member of Congress to be convicted as a result of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's "sting" operation, Mr. Jenrette is fighting an uphill battle for a fourth term in the house. He was found guilty last month of taking Arab sheikh who wanted legislative favors.
Cut off from financial aid by the national party, the Democratic congressman has little money for the race -- only $17,000 compared with the $228,000 campaign chest of his Republican opponent, John L. Napier.
Virtually every newspaper in South Caroline has called on Jenrette to resign. Still, he is seen as having a good chance of winning.
Some of his constituents "feel he was victimized," says Dr R. N. Beck, a Florence physician and a leader in the district's black community. Jenrette's district is about 30 percent black, and black voters have been his strongest supporters. The congressman's backing of social programs and minority rights have won enough goodwill to override the bribery conviction, says Dr. Beck, who predicts Jenrette will get 90 percent of the black vote. Republican challenger John Napier is a Florence lawyer who has worked as an aide for US Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina. Senator Thurmond visited the district to support Mr. Napier.
A recent poll taken by the Napier forces gave him a 43 percent to 33 percent lead over Jenrette, with the rest undecided. The GOP candidate spent much of his money on television ads in which he hits the themes of inflation, unemployment, and the need for a change. But he does not mention Abscam.
"It's pretty clear to everyone what's happened," says Napier campaign manager Earl McLeod of the bribery conviction.
If Jenrette is reelected he will have to face his House colleagues, who already have expelled one member convicted in an Abscam trial.