February 5th, 2014
07:52 AM ET
3 months ago

Clay Aiken launches bid for Congress

Updated 3:14 p.m. ET, 2/5/2014

(CNN) – He may be best known as an entertainer, but Clay Aiken says his personal story qualifies him for Congress.

"I do think that story qualifies me in the sense that I understand that we all go through issues, that we all go through struggles in life and they make us who we are and we learn from them, and for that reason I think empathy and caring for the people you represent is a really important qualification for Congress," Aiken said Wednesday in an interview on CNN's "Newsroom."

A few hours earlier the singer of "American Idol" fame announced that he was seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers in North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District.

In a video put up on his campaign website, Aiken highlighted his personal story, sharing that he grew up in a home torn apart by domestic violence, and how that inspired him to be a voice for the powerless. He also touted his work as a special education teacher for students with autism.

"The years I spent as a special education teacher for students with autism was my first window into the difference that a person can make in someone's life," Aiken said.

In his video, and in his CNN interview, Aiken criticized the partisanship that smothers Congress, saying "I am not a politician. I never want to be one. But I do want to bring back, at least to my corner of North Carolina, the idea that someone can go to Washington to represent all the people, whether they voted for you or not."

But he sounded a bit like a politician as he criticized Ellmers for her votes on the government shutdown and funding for the military.

"Fort Bragg, one of the largest and most important military installations in the country, is based in this district. And yet some of the votes that Congresswoman Ellmers has taken have directly affected negatively military families and military members, and that's frustrating because that says 'she's not listening,'" Aiken told CNN's Brooke Baldwin.

Aiken, 35, claimed that Ellmers voted the way her party leaders told her to, saying that "in the end, convinced me that if I didn't try and do something about it, then I couldn't complain if no one else did."

Ellmers, when asked about Aiken in a recent radio interview on WMAL in North Carolina, said "currently his performing career is not going so well, and he's very bored."

'A settled issue'

Aiken, who came out as gay in 2008, gained national attention when he came in second to Ruben Studdard in the second season of American Idol. Aiken joins two other Democrats who have already declared their bids for Congress in the district.

Aiken said he doubts he'll bring up North Carolina's same-sex marriage ban as an issue during his campaign.

"It is something that's a settled issue in North Carolina. It's not something that a congressman has anything to do with," he said on CNN.

Adding that his position on the subject is "obviously pretty clear," Aiken said other topics involving jobs and the economy take precedence over the same-sex marriage debate.

"It's not an issue that's going to be discussed much in this campaign, regardless of my views on it," he said.

Can Aiken win?

Aiken's celebrity status gives him instant name recognition in the district, where he grew up, and should allow him to raise a lot of campaign cash.

But the second congressional district, located in the central and eastern parts of North Carolina, is GOP country. The two-term Ellmers won 56% of the vote in her 2012 re-election, slightly underperforming the GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who beat President Barack Obama 58%-41% in the district.

Asked in his CNN interview about whether he can be competitive against Ellmers if he wins the Democratic nomination, Aiken said "I don't think it (North Carolina's second congressional district) is redder than red," adding that "I don't think anyone lives on one end of the political spectrum or the other. Everyone lives somewhere in the middle."

While Aiken's entry into the race will put the contest in the national spotlight, some top non-partisan political handicappers don't think it will make the contest more competitive.

"I think this will become the highest profile, non-competitive race in the country. If Aiken wasn't running as a Democrat in a Republican district in President Obama's second midterm, he might have a decent shot," Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, told CNN. "Being on American idol doesn't change the fact that he's a Democrat in a Republican district."

David Wasserman, House editor at the Cook Report, another leading non-partisan political handicapper, agreed.

"He will make the race much more interesting, but there is still virtually no chance a Democrat – even a celebrity – can beat a GOP incumbent in such a solidly Republican, gerrymandered seat as long as President Obama's approval ratings are what they are."

A Democrat with deep knowledge of North Carolina politics told CNN Aiken "is loved by a lot of people in North Carolina, and his appeal cuts across party lines after his American Idol run."

"But jumping into politics will change that," said the Democrat, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely.

CNN Political Editor Mark Preston and CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report.


Filed under: 2014 • Congress • North Carolina
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Oakspar77777

    He says he doesn't want to be a politician while running for political office? Someone needs to buy him a dictionary that isn't written in doublespeak.

    Moreover, since when did being unqualified for a job become something to brag about in a resume? We have seen what damage that ideology without experience has done in the White House for the last 5 years.

    Finally, without experience, he also has no voting record. His positions are whatever he says they are without any evidence that he will vote that way in Congress. NC has had plenty of politicians who speak one language in the state and another when they get to DC (Hagen, McIntyre, etc.).

    He is running on nothing but name recognition and charisma as a Liberal in a Conservative district. It would be an embarrassment if he won – much like running a guy from Duck Dynasty in Chicago.

    February 5, 2014 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  2. xray vision

    At least he has the courage to do something, but down there, good luck son. If what he's seen so far looks bad, he wont like what's coming: Ashley Judd knows all about it, and she's straugt, don't let them get to you. The more people see of the gop, the harder it is to vote for them ( I would hope).

    February 5, 2014 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  3. Vexxer

    I challenge anyone to to try to make sense of the NC congressional map.. I have never seen anything like it.. It literally looks like a 3 yr old drew it with crayons. Gerrymandering at its finest.

    February 5, 2014 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  4. xray vision

    7777, right, because what we really need is a seasoned politician, adept at corrupting . Watch the lines get drawn this year, deep red states most dependent on the government, publicly bashing the programs that support their voters, wonder why intelligent people think there a little " slow" down there.

    February 5, 2014 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  5. Daniel

    Speaking as someone who lives in that district, the only embarrassment will be if we elect that muppet Ellmers again, she makes us look like a bunch of ill-informed backwater hicks that think the only way forward is to go back 70 years.

    February 5, 2014 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  6. John Boy

    I'm excited and hopeful for the young man. NC seems to be the perfect example of our nation's direction should the GOP continue to have anything to do with its direction. Obvious voter supression, clear-cut inequality, 98% of the state's wealth held by a handfull of white, male, religious-right, self-titled deservers, who think the women should keep their mouth's shut, legs-open, stay in the kitchen, 50s era, gay-hating, bigots. Who think the poor wants and should stay that way. Good luck Clay – you have my vote!

    February 5, 2014 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  7. Gary

    I hate to burst your bubble, but Ellmers also had no experience when she ran in 2010. She was a nurse who caught a lucky break because of a snafu posted on the Internet about the Democratic incumbent. She then caught another lucky break by having Sarah Palin care about the race and endorse her.

    Ellmers is the perfect example of what we get with big money in down ticket races.

    February 5, 2014 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  8. JLXvsElvis

    South Carolina? We love your voice, Clay, but congress? Good luck.

    February 5, 2014 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
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