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Obama’s nod puts Jackson Jr. ahead

Updated: December 8, 2011 8:07AM

Triple J is emerging from under a political boulder. He’s shovel-ready.

Fox News Chicago reported last week that President Barack Obama has told U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. he will “absolutely” support him for re-election. That tidbit might be just enough to save Jackson’s gnarly political skin.

On Oct. 16, at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial dedication in Washington, D.C., Jackson button-holed Obama and asked for his endorsement. Jackson’s office made sure to mention that his father and sister, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and Santita Jackson, were nearby and heard the exchange. That’s vintage Jackson: Leave no wiggle room.

Jackson is rolling out his comeback tour. In a recent speech to the Kankakee County NAACP, he declared, “I will be vindicated” in ongoing investigations connected to the federal Operation Board Games probe.

For three years, Jackson has been ducking and dodging allegations that former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat once held by Obama and that Jackson was the earnest buyer. The federal probe led to a pending U.S. House Ethics Committee investigation. Then along came salacious revelations that Jackson was involved in an extramarital affair.

Jackson has not been charged with any crime. He has issued incessant denials but languished in the political dog house. No dropping tidbits to beltway reporters, no dog-and-pony press conferences.

His troubles set the stage for the first serious challenge of his career. Last month, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson launched a bid to take out Jackson in the March 2012 primary. She has been charging hard, arguing that the 15-year incumbent is an absentee congressman and under an ethical cloud.

No love lost here. Halvorson, who lost her 11th District seat last year, has tussled with Jackson over his signature theme: building an airport in south suburban Will County. Jackson once tried to torpedo Halvorson’s bid for state transportation secretary.

Halvorson harbors hopes that Jackson’s troubles, combined with a newly drawn district, make him ripe for a knockout.

Jackson’s 2nd District now spans the South Side to Kankakee County. The district is now 55 percent black, compared with 62 percent in the old configuration, but Jackson retains about 75 percent of his old territory. Halverson, who is white, is not a familiar figure in most of the district.

Black urban incumbents are difficult to dislodge. Jackson remains a prodigious fund-raiser and, when he’s on his game, a shrewd operator.

Obama’s support for Jackson in a contentious primary puts Halvorson in a prickly position, especially since she has questioned Jackson’s loyalty to the president.

It puts a shiv to speculation that the congressman is on the bubble. Would this risk-averse president back Jackson if there were an indictment or humiliating congressional censure waiting in the wings?

I doubt it.

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