If Aiken joins in, expect a circus of a House race

Fayetteville ObserverJanuary 28, 2014 

Clay Aiken.

COURTESY FO KEVIN COOK

The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:

The democratic system works best when voters can choose between viable candidates who each bring something to the table. The candidate pool emerging in the 2nd District congressional race could turn November’s contest into a circus.

Republican Renee Ellmers had an easy time fending off challengers from both parties in 2011. But she has aligned herself with House Speaker John Boehner – conservative but well-removed from the most extreme wing of the party. Frank Roche sees an opening in Ellmers’ lack of far-right credentials.

The former banking executive fled the beleaguered Manhattan financial industry in 2007 for the Triangle and promptly began running for office. After a failed 2010 Republican primary bid for the 4th District, Roche emerged as a radio talk show host and is now running in the 2nd.

He attacks Ellmers for voting to extend the debt ceiling – not a vote to spend more but to avoid welshing on bills Congress has already racked up. An ex-banker surely knows Ellmers took a responsible path. But this is politics.

A primary victory for Roche would saddle Republicans with a far-right candidate who lacks credence. In other years, depriving mainstream conservatives of a serious contender would seal the deal for Democrats. Except that Clay Aiken’s potential bid could wreak havoc with the whole process.

Already in the race on the Democratic side are businessman Houston Barnes and former N.C. Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco. Both appear to offer the party a solid contender.

But Aiken’s celebrity status could be an edge in a likely low-turnout primary. That would be unfortunate for Democrats, although an Aiken campaign would by a wide margin trump the rest in musical value.

Aiken’s career has stalled in recent years with dismal record sales, so his star status may not do much for him in the general race. Openly gay and an outspoken activist for gay-rights causes, it’s difficult imagining culturally conservative voters in this district making him their representative.

Yet primary voters could easily hand us a Roche vs. Aiken race, a choice between candidates who would leave mainstream voters scratching their heads.

So far, Aiken is only considering a run. We hope he decides to sit this one out. We’d love to see him return to the musical limelight. But to paraphrase Sir Robin, whom he portrayed in Broadway’s “Spamalot,” we’d hate to see him “bashed into a pulp” in an ugly race, and that’s likely to happen against Ellmers or Roche.

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