CHICAGO - As though still running for office, a smiling and jovial Rod Blagojevich waded into the crowd, making upbeat statements, hugging and shaking hands with supporters holding signs.
He's not on a ballot anymore, though, and the only voters that matter are the 12 people who will be chosen from the potential jurors being questioned yesterday. They will decide whether the former Illinois governor tried to sell President Barack Obama's former Senate seat and leverage his power into a moneymaking enterprise.
Since being ousted from office, Blagojevich has pleaded his innocence on radio, in comedy shows and in a book, often playing the lovable goof. For one reality show, his wife went in his stead - making an impression on one potential juror, who told the judge she had seen Patti Blagojevich on TV eating a bug.
Blagojevich himself was "on some kind of reality show, too," she said. But the judge clearly tried to steer clear of political opinions.
Some 18 months after FBI agents arrested him at his home at dawn, Blagojevich arrived at federal court, holding hands with his wife. He stepped into a gantlet of about 30 waiting cameras and reporters outside the courthouse. Of no more than 10 bystanders, three or four were vocal supporters.
"I feel great," said Blagojevich, who denies any wrongdoing.
"The truth shall set you free," he told one well-wisher as he shook the man's hand.
Blagojevich appeared to display at least a hint of anxiety at one point after walking through a metal detector, fumbling with and dropping his wallet several times as he retrieved it from a basket.
In the courtroom, he took his place at a separate defense table from his brother and co-defendant, and sat with his attorneys to size up a pool of potential jurors for his corruption trial. They included a math teacher, an ex-Marine and a former precinct captain who said she would ask "for guidance from my heavenly father" in deciding guilt or innocence.