Former Rep. James Traficant always has been good at piling up the votes.
Even the U.S. House vote expelling him from Congress Wednesday was overwhelming, 420-1, with only Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., tarred in the Chandra Levy disappearance and killing, daring to show any support.
Traficant still is immensely popular with voters in his northern Ohio, steel country district, even though he had no committee assignments in the current Congress, cast no votes on legislation this year and faces prison for his April conviction on racketeering and other charges for accepting kickbacks from employees and bribes from constituent businessmen in exchange for his influence on Capitol Hill.
Traficant, 61, skipped May's Democratic primary for his redrawn district, opting instead to run as an independent. With his sentencing hearing set for next Tuesday, the son of a truck driver, known for his blustery and crude rhetoric, bad haircuts and ill-fitting denim suits, has pledged to campaign from prison and hopes to become the first congressman in modern times elected from a cell.
"I'm prepared to lose everything," Traficant told colleagues during the 45 minutes allotted to him Wednesday night. "I'm prepared to go to jail. You go ahead and expel me."
The expulsion is only the second since the Civil War and only the fifth in Congress' 213-year history.
Ohio Gov. Robert Taft Thursday decided against calling a special election to replace Traficant, saying it would be too confusing and too expensive, considering whoever is elected would serve only a few weeks before the 108th Congress is installed.
Traficant, who is in his ninth term, began cleaning out his office on Thursday but political observers say it's possible he'll be back.
"If the election were held today, he would win," Bill Binning, a Youngstown State University professor and former chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "He got a big bounce out of his performance at the congressional hearings. People are saying, 'Jim's our guy.'"
In unscientific polls conducted by Youngstown and Cleveland television stations, more than half of participants expressed the sentiment Traficant had been railroaded, buying his argument the government has had it in for him ever since he beat accusations in 1983 of accepting money from mob figures. He said he was conducting an undercover sting operation.
"Youngstown is a former mill town that still has a lot of lunchbox carriers," former Mahoning County Democratic Chairman Don Hanni told the Plain Dealer. "The people here are highly sensitive about putting Jim Traficant in jail when others have done worse and gotten away with it."
The question, however, is whether Traficant can remain on the ballot. State law allows any individual to challenge his right to run.
Before Wednesday night's expulsion vote, Traficant had begged colleagues to wait until his appeals were exhausted before acting. He has even cited former New York Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. as a role model. Congress tried to expel Powell for misusing public funds but the expulsion was overturned by the Supreme Court.
"Don't be surprised if I don't come up with some legal and political machinations that put the Congress on its heels," Traficant told CNN, adding he could always conduct a radio talk show from his jail cell if all else fails.
Just beam him up.