Clay Aiken takes the stage in run for Congress

February 5, 2014 

Clay Aiken, 35, gears up for his campaign for the North Carolina 2nd Congressional District’s Democratic primary in Raleigh. Best known for his TV appearances on “American Idol” and “Celebrity Apprentice,” Aiken now hopes to make a difference in politics in Washington, D.C.


Clay Aiken has entered another contest in which the public’s votes count. This time, the former “American Idol” contestant from Raleigh hopes to win a seat in Congress from North Carolina’s 2nd District.

It’s an unusual candidacy. Aiken, 35, became famous and wealthy from his 2003 run in the TV talent show “American Idol.” He’s also a political novice and, since 2008, openly gay. A Democrat, he faces a primary contest with Keith Crisco, a former state commerce secretary, and Toni Morris, a professional counselor.

If he wins the nomination, the entertainer will likely take on Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers, a former tea party favorite who faces a challenge from her right from Frank Roche of Cary, an investor and radio talk show host.

The prospect of an Aiken and Ellmers contest is an intriguing and ironic one. Aiken gained fame by being on camera. Ellmers might have gained office by having her opponent on camera. An ambush video of her 2010 opponent – the Democratic incumbent Bob Etheridge – showed him threatening a young Republican operative who tried to question him and might have cost him the close election.

Meanwhile, Ellmers is already poking at Aiken as a TV celebrity when she herself has built a national image as a photogenic Republican congresswoman who frequently appears on TV criticizing President Obama.

Aiken may finish as a runner-up just as he did on “American Idol,” but Ellmers would do well to stay tuned. Her fascination with being famous in Washington has cooled some of her supporters back home. Meanwhile, Aiken’s fame translates into a potent political strength – name recognition – and his call for getting Ellmers’ do-nothing Congress to do something may well resonate like a winning song.

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