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Elected Criminals

Donald Trump is not the first political candidate to run for office while facing criminal charges, and he will not be the first to win an election after being convicted. While he faces a mountain of legal problems, history suggests that charges can become political assets under the right circumstances.

LONDON – While Donald Trump holds the dubious distinction of being the first former US president to run for office while facing criminal charges, he is not the first political candidate in American history to have been indicted, convicted, or even incarcerated. Trump’s secretary of energy and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, for example, had an abuse-of-power charge pending against him when he briefly sought the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

Then there was Eugene Debs, who ran for president in 1920 from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he was serving a ten-year sentence for violating the Sedition Act of 1918 by delivering a speech opposing the United States’ involvement in World War I. Running as the Socialist Party’s candidate, Debs did not win the presidency but received nearly a million votes – the most a socialist has ever received in a US presidential election.

Some convicted candidates even managed to win their races. Marion S. Barry, Jr. won a fourth term as mayor of Washington, DC, in 1994, despite serving six months in prison for drug possession four years earlier.

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