Sept. 15, 2009 -- He may be down, but don't count him out.
Former Democratic congressman James Traficant, fresh off completing a seven year prison term for a bribery and racketeering conviction, says he has not ruled out running for Congress again.
"I'm not sure at this point," Traficant told CNN on Monday when asked if he would seek reelection. "Both parties would not want to see me in Washington, believe me… I was very controversial down there."
Traficant, known for his flamboyant appearance and fiery political speeches, served nine terms representing Ohio's 17th congressional district. He was convicted in 2002 and later expelled from the House of Representatives .
Traficant has been outspoken about his imprisonment in the week since his release, appearing on a number of national television and radio talk shows.
"Nelson Mandela said if you really want to know the truth about a nation, you gotta go through their prisons," Traficant told Fox News on Sept. 10. "Believe me, he's right. And I learned an awful lot about America going through the prisons."
Supporters of Traficant have long held that he was the target of a government conspiracy -- despite a jury finding him guilty on 10-counts including bribery, filing false income tax returns, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to defraud the United States and racketeering.
"I'd be the first one to support him" if he ran for office, said Linda Kovachik, a friend and former Traficant staffer. "And I think people are going to realize he really got the royal screwing and that his conviction was unjust."
Kovachik organized a homecoming party for Traficant at which 1,200 supporters gave him a hero's welcome following his release from prison Sept. 2.
"A lot of unhappy retirees are now asking for his help," Kovachik said. "And he's not even their congressman!"
John Green, political science professor at the University of Akron, says the resurgence in support for Traficant represents "nostalgia for the high point of Jim's career but also nostalgia for the Youngstown of 30 years ago."
Many parts of northeastern Ohio have struggled economically since the 1970s when widespread closures of steel plants dealt a blow to the area once known as "Steel Valley."
"In many ways, [Traficant] represents the anger people have for the economic changes that have swept through the area," Green says.
Traficant Weighs Reelection to House
Bertram de Souza, longtime political reporter for the Youngstown Vindicator who has known Traficant for more than 30 years, says many former steel workers and other blue collar workers and retirees are drawn to "the power of [Traficant's] personality that is still there, and that blinds people to his reality."
"He does have vocal supporters," says de Souza, "but there's a silent majority out there that'd rather he go away."
Still, those detractors haven't deterred Traficant from contemplating a return to Congress.
" I'm going to have a lot of…opposition if I do run, but quite frankly, I don't give a damn," Traficant told CNN. "You know, beam me up, I'm ready if I decide to run."
Technically, Traficant is eligible to run for election and hold national office.
According to a 2008 study by the Congressional Research Service, "indictment for or conviction of a felony" and "congressional censure or expulsion" are not disqualifiers for holding future political office.
Whatever Traficant decides, strategists say the political landscape in eastern Ohio has changed since Traficant left office and that voters may have lost their appetite for Traficant's political showmanship.
"His prospects for running – and running successfully – are really dim," said Green.
"I think we've moved on [in this congressional district]," said de Souza. "We've had about 70 elected officials who've corrupted local government and have been convicted. 'Thinking people' have realized we have to change."