CLEVELAND (AP) - Despite being convicted of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. said Friday that he still plans to run for re-election, and political analysts say his candidacy should not be discounted.
"I have no plans to resign, and I intend to run as an independent in November for the 17th District of Ohio," the nine-term Democrat said. "I will not allow the government to get rid of Jim Traficant without a fight."
Political analysts say it is not impossible for Traficant to win re-election or to have a major impact on the race, despite the fact that he was found guilty Thursday of taking kickbacks from staff and bribes and gifts from businessmen he was lobbying for.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of 63 years in jail, though under federal sentencing guidelines, he is likely to get a much lighter sentence. Sentencing was scheduled for June 27.
Traficant's conviction "makes his appeal more intense among the true believers," said John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
"If he goes back to Youngstown and plays the victim card, he may be able to rally that core constituency," Green said.
"I think that he can generate some serious support" said David Ditzler, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party. "Maybe out because they are anti-government or maybe just out of a sense of poor taste, people would still be willing to vote for him."
Ditzler said that Traficant's candidacy could split the Democratic vote in the area and help elect a Republican in the new 17th congressional district. It also "epitomizes the lack of respect he has for the area he supposedly represents," Ditzler said.
Traficant -- a lifelong Democrat -- announced in February that he would not run in the May 7 Democratic primary against Rep. Tom Sawyer and five other candidates. He has until May 6 to file his candidacy as an independent.
Traficant's old Youngstown district was erased in a redistricting plan approved by the Legislature in January, and the new district boundaries stretches west to include Akron area voters that Traficant has never represented.
Traficant earlier said he would not resign, despite a call by House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt for him to do so.
House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi seconded Gephardt's statement Friday.
"Given the gravity of the charges contained in the guilty verdict, the appropriate action for Mr. Traficant to take is to resign his seat immediately," Pelosi said. "I urge the Republican Leadership to join us in calling for his resignation."
The convictions don't prevent Traficant from running again for Congress, though Ditzler said Traficant would be barred by state law from running for a local precinct committee chairmanship for five years after his conviction.
Bill Kimberling, deputy director of the office of election administration for the Federal Election Commission, said having a clear record wasn't a requirement to be a candidate.
"The founding fathers thought about that but didn't include it in the Constitution because they were afraid a sitting president could have all the members of his opposition arrested. They could be convicted felons and then nobody could run against him," he said.
House rules say a member "should refrain from voting" if convicted of a felony. The rule would no longer apply if Traficant won an appeal or was re-elected.
Melanie J. Blumberg, a professor of history and political science at California University of Pennsylvania, said Traficant's support may wane in the wake of the guilty verdict.
"People like to go with a winner," Blumberg said. "Even though they may have supported him in the beginning, now that he's been convicted, people are fair weather friends."
Traficant, who is not a lawyer but represented himself in court, promised he would appeal "because the judge very clearly mishandled this case and was prejudiced toward the government's case from day one."
But legal experts say he may face serious hurdles for an appeal and that the court may not allow him to represent himself.
Adam Thurschwell, a professor at Cleveland Marshall College of Law, said the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the right for a person to defend himself does not extend to the appeals court. If Traficant fails to follow court procedures, as he frequently did during the trial, the appeals court could order him to get an attorney, Thurschwell said.
Traficant has repeatedly refused to hire a lawyer, saying he cannot afford one and that he does not trust lawyers to represent his interests.
Traficant often was chastised by the judge for not following procedure. Throughout the 10-week trial, he shouted at witnesses, government attorneys and the judge.
Traficant contended the government came after him because he beat the FBI in a racketeering case 19 years ago, when he was a Mahoning County sheriff accused of taking mob money.
"My strong stances on matters such as the Chinese influence on the DNC (Democratic National Committee), the failures of Janet Reno's Justice Department and the worthlessness of the IRS have placed a target on my back," Traficant said Friday.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)