Clay Aiken's star power put to the test in North Carolina
May 5th, 2014
02:16 PM ET
7 months ago

Clay Aiken's star power put to the test in North Carolina

(CNN) – Second place won't cut it this time.

North Carolina voters head to the polls Tuesday for the state's primary. And that means it's show time for Clay Aiken, the 2003 "American Idol" runner-up-turned Democratic congressional candidate.

Aiken announced his bid for the 2nd Congressional District in February, in the hopes of challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers. Aiken faces two other Democrats vying for the Ellmer's seat - Keith Crisco, a textile entrepreneur, and Tony Morris, a licensed family counselor.

Despite his name recognition, if Aiken wins on Tuesday, his star power might not be enough to sway the Republican tilt in the district.

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Ellmers, who's held the seat for two terms, is a tea party favorite, elected in the 2010 conservative grassroots wave that swept Republicans into the majority in the House.

She won re-election with 56% of the vote in 2012. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama in the district by a 58-41 margin – an even wider margin than Romney bested Obama in the state overall, 50-48.

But Ellmers faces a primary challenge from conservative talk-radio host Frank Roche, thanks in part to her willingness to consider some immigration reform efforts.

On top of the state's recent election results, Aiken and fellow Democrats face a tide of an anti-all-things-Obama sentiment among voters.

Obama's health care law remains unpopular in North Carolina. That, coupled with Obama lackuster approval ratings (which are hovering in the low to mid 40's), could be a drag on Democratic candidates across the board in this year's midterm elections.

In short, North Carolina's 2nd District, which spans the central and eastern parts of the state, isn't friendly territory for a Democrat.

Still, some top non-partisan political handicappers have said if circumstances were different, Aiken might not be facing such an uphill battle.

"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 after Aiken launched his bid in February.

"Being on American idol doesn't change the fact that he's a Democrat in a Republican district."

Throughout his bid, Aiken has contended that his personal story – growing up in a broken home fraught with domestic violence - qualifies him for Congress.

Aiken is openly gay. He came out in 2008, five years after gaining national notoriety on "American Idol," coming in second to Ruben Studdard in the show's second season.

In 2010, North Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Aiken has called the gay marriage debate "a settled issue in North Carolina," and has instead focused his campaign on jobs and the economy.

The general election is on November 4.

Complete coverage of the 2014 midterm elections


Filed under: 2014 • North Carolina • Renee Ellmers
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. salty dog

    If he thought he's suffered prejudice for being gay, you ain't seen nothing yet, the gop will make you out to be the devil before its over.

    May 5, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  2. CryBabies

    Hey , Hey, Hey...........Goodbye.

    May 5, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  3. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Sorry Clay but you don't stand a chance. You're a gay democrat. You might want to consider moving somewhere more inclusive.

    May 5, 2014 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  4. Chelsea

    Ellmers isn't even popular in her own party these days. She voted for the government shutdown but insisted along with her surgeon husband that they couldn't do without her paycheck. Other colleagues turned down their paychecks at that time. Then she voted no on Obamacare but accepted healthcare coverage saying it was too expensive for her personal budget. The people of her district are fed up so that has the GOP worried. Aiken's Democratic opponent is an elderly NC businessman and always brags about how many jobs he brings to the area. It turns out his major job growth in the company has been at his several Central American factories and numerous distribution centers that are located south of the US/Mexico border. Crisco has also lobbied for Coal Ash to be declared non toxic which is very relavent since there was a spill into the Dan River earlier this year. Lets see him and others drink water from that area and see if they really believe that it's non toxic. Crisco also has lied about how much he has self funded to his own campaign. He recently told a group of seniors that it was in the neighborhood of $200,000. Luckily Aiken was speaking at the same meeting and corrected that figure for him. Crisco has poured $700,000 + into his own campaign fund. He has very little individual donations which means as Aiken says he is trying to buy his Congress seat. Aiken's other opponent has $0 raised for her campaign and seems ill prepared for the fight. Watching Aiken in debates and getting out and meeting voters shows that he is prepared and has done his homework. Lets not forget that he started his foundation for inclusion of disabled children and has grown it into 36 states in the last 11 + years. He is a lot tougher than people give him credit for. NC02 district would be smart to vote him in.

    May 5, 2014 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  5. Arianna

    Clay made racist tweets last year as well as stated he wanted to for punch a woman in throat on his twitter. Between that and his rumored preference for online dalliances, no way Clay.

    May 5, 2014 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  6. Marie MD

    Good luck Clay.

    May 5, 2014 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  7. LacrosseMom

    Best of luck to you, Clay Aiken!!!

    May 5, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  8. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Clay you know I love ya BUT you better talk to Ashley Judd. They chewed her up and spit her out prior to her even announcing she was running. I can see the ads now....

    Clay Aiken wants to force everybody into a gay marriage! He's trying to redefine marriage. And too much other craziness that I'll get zapped for posting.

    Good luck to you Clay, you're going to need it.😍😍

    May 5, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |