February 5th, 2014
07:52 AM ET
10 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. xray vision

    Wow, listen to the common sense coming from this guy, welcome to the smear machine clay, its about to get ugly. A special education teacher, requires giving in a way the rich couldn't possibly understand, no wonder he scares them. Good luck clay, your saying all the right things, stay focused.

    February 5, 2014 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
  2. xray vision

    Seems anyone with an ounce of compassion frightens the gop. Slowly but surely the masses are awakening, bad for you gop. How's that voter suppression machine working, you've alot of votes to deny. Their plans will backfire, the more you attempt to deny the disenfranchised their vote, the more vigilante they will be in doing so, Florida 2008 ring a bell.

    February 5, 2014 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  3. Stop the Madness

    News Flash – "Hey, Clay. Not gonna happen."

    February 5, 2014 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  4. Matt

    OMG!! Just stop already!!!

    February 5, 2014 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  5. Ron

    He is going to get so destroyed...this is North Carolina we're talking about...not Southern California.

    February 5, 2014 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  6. GREG

    Good for him. Hope him all the success in making things better for all the people in his district.

    February 5, 2014 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  7. john

    Whatcha’ doin’ tonight
    I wish I could be your congressman
    Are you heavy in debt
    Who's stealin' your income taxes
    Why can't I bring you into my life
    What would it take to make you see that I'd be a great congressman

    [Chorus]

    If I was in congress
    Then I could just lower your taxes
    If I was in congress

    February 5, 2014 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  8. jnpa

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

    Typical GOP comment! She couldn't say anything worthy of note, so she said something ridiculous.

    February 5, 2014 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  9. Peter gelezius

    Another entertainer for congress. So far,I have not been entertained

    February 5, 2014 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  10. tcp

    Well, Renee, you just lost my vote with that adolescent retort...

    February 5, 2014 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  11. Teresa Torsiello

    Kudos to Clay Aikens, I truly believe that you have the right to criticize only if you have the heart to help (A. Lincoln). Many people complain and do nothing to change it. Congress needs a wakeup call, we are done watching them destroy our country with political agendas that only hurt America. Good luck Clay!

    February 5, 2014 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  12. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    I guess when your a failure at everything you might as well run for a seat in the worst failed congress ever????

    February 5, 2014 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  13. iceload

    He had my attention till the cat fight started.

    February 5, 2014 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  14. KayNoWay

    He has as much of a chance as 0bamacare Kay... nada...

    February 5, 2014 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  15. Andy

    OH boy another no nothing liberal

    February 5, 2014 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  16. jinx9to88

    Anyone will do except a Republican!!

    February 5, 2014 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  17. Mark

    More power to him, just goes to show you don't need a brain to be in politics.

    February 5, 2014 08:43 am at 8:43 am |
  18. Pat in IL

    Elmer's comment is so snarky. It's too bad thT a "leader" couldn't come up with something more intelligent and meaningful. ThT comment sounds like a 7th grader.

    February 5, 2014 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  19. elvis316

    If voting is done with a 900 number, he's a lock.

    February 5, 2014 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  20. Gurgyl

    No wonder this nation is in troubles, while singers, movie guys, drama people are elected by bunch of uneducated folks. Sad. Do these guys know anything about policy? Or policy making?

    February 5, 2014 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  21. carre1

    Sorry, Clay, but you don't stand a chance in this district. Johnston County once had a big KKK presence. It's not Chapel Hill. I'd vote for you, but I don't live in the district that voted in that Ellmers teaparty hypocrite.

    February 5, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  22. Fifi

    Performer or not it really sounds like he's got his mind on the issues that people in that area need help with. I say maybe its time for a party change. Mr.Aiken is a very enterprising person,maybe new outlooks are needed all over this country. The same old garbage isnt work. Its time for change.

    February 5, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  23. Seattle Sue

    He can sing, what more would you want in your congressman?

    February 5, 2014 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  24. the dude

    If I was in NC. he would have my vote.

    February 5, 2014 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  25. myway

    I find it hard o believe someone can survive getting elected to congress with their integrity intact. The election process alone is corrupting. However, I like unbridled idealism and optimism, therefore power to you, Aiken. Prove me wrong.

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