Clay Aiken, American Idol season 2 runner-up and a very successful singer, of Raleigh, North Carolina is throwing his hat into the political ring as a Democrat in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District. A lot of the articles I’ve seen have either failed to provide any context whatsoever or have written him off completely without much detail. So, I aim to remedy that here.
If nominated — he has to get past two other Democrats first in the May primary — Aiken would likely be challenging incumbent two-term Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers — known best for justifying Congress being paid during last year’s shutdown, saying “I need my paycheck. That’s the bottom line.” She’s also the Republican Women’s Policy Committee chairwoman.
Ellmers already faces a primary challenge, from the right, from a local right-wing radio host. She seems personally offended that Aiken is also daring to run against her and was quite mocking of him during a recent interview (audio).
Aiken plans to emphasize education (they’re trying to highlight past work in special education, but I’m not sure he actually spent a whole lot of time doing that), as well as job-creation and the usual stuff. He will come into the race with a lot of potential for self-funding (assuming his earnings haven’t dropped too dramatically in just the last couple years) and very high name recognition. In terms of the big picture for the U.S. House, Democrats would probably love to recapture that district, which — before it was redrawn — had once been historically black and was only lost to Ellmers in 2010 by fewer than 2,000 votes. Barack Obama won the old district in 2008 (but would have lost it heavily to McCain under the new lines).
That being said, the NC 2nd is a district that was drastically redrawn by the Republican legislature after 2010, to be a low-income and heavily white district with a 50-50 urban rural split. It has a 10 point Republican voter lean in the 2013 Cook PVI ratings, though it may be that those Republicans are more solid than the previous version of the district, since it was actually slightly more Republican on paper when it was held by Democratic Bob Rep. Etheridge. In the 2012 presidential election, it voted for Mitt Romney by 18 points.
So, it will be an uphill battle for any Democrat there, even without considering that it would be a midterm race (lower turnout) and that Aiken is openly gay in a state that just voted in 2012 to ban any legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Ellmers, while unpopular nationally as a person (her shutdown comments are the tip of an unpleasant iceberg), is a solid conservative in a new district that voted to re-elect her last time by a margin of over 45,000 votes or 15 points. But it’s probably worth noting that Mitt Romney outperformed her in the same election when her Democratic opponent in 2012 didn’t have much name recognition, which may demonstrate some vulnerability. Even so, it’s still a decisive result that will made it a challenge for any Democrat — even for someone like Aiken who could probably assemble a reasonably credible campaign.