Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers scored a decisive victory Tuesday, claiming a third term representing the 2nd Congressional District and defeating recording star Clay Aiken.
Ellmers said during the campaign that she was somewhat concerned about running against someone with widespread name recognition. But that turned out not to matter much in the Republican-leaning district, which covers parts of nine counties, including western Wake suburbs, Fort Bragg and the neighborhoods around it, and retirement communities in Pinehurst.
Ellmers led 59 to 41 percent with all precincts reporting.
“I am just so proud to be able to go back to Washington and continue to work for this district,” she told about 90 supporters at her victory party. “We’re going to continue to work for this country.”
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Ellmers said she looked forward to advancing legislation the Republican House has been working on concerning job creation, specifically approval of the controversial Keystone Pipeline.
“If we pass the Keystone Pipeline, we will create jobs immediately,” she said.
Aiken, the second-place finisher in the second season of “American Idol,” once again became a prominent figure as national publications chronicled the campaign of the singer-turned-politician. The Democrat made a spirited run at the seat and ended the campaign with a three-week bus trip through the district.
Speaking to his supporters Tuesday night in Sanford, Aiken referred to his second-place finish in “American Idol.”
“We’ve walked down this path once or twice before,” he said.
Aiken said he was happy to have energized voters. During the campaign, he frequently referred to using his stature to bring attention to important issues. He said Tuesday his voice will get louder and that he will continue to be active.
The only Democratic congressional candidates celebrating victories Tuesday were those in races where the outcomes were foregone conclusions. Former state Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro won the 12th Congressional District in the race to replace Mel Watt, U.S. Rep. David Price of Chapel Hill won re-election in the 4th Congressional District, and U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield of Wilson will continue representing the 1st Congressional District.
Ten Republicans and three Democrats will represent the state in the next Congress, as the state will see another district flip Republican: the 7th District, which has been represented by a Democrat for more than a century.
Rouzer wins 7th
Republican David Rouzer won the 7th District, which stretches from Johnston County to the coast.
Rouzer, a former state senator from Johnston County, lost to incumbent Democrat Mike McIntyre by 654 votes in 2012, the closest margin of any House race that year.
McInytre decided not to seek re-election after nine terms in office. Rouzer, after winning a primary, led New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, a Democrat, by 59 to 37 percent. Libertarian J. Wesley Casteen had 3 percent, with 174 of 213 precincts counted.
Rouzer referenced breaking the long drought for Republicans in the district in his victory speech.
“It’s a historic moment tonight, but it’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about you and doing what’s right for America and moving the country forward.
“I promise you this,” he said “I will do everything in my power to protect the Constitution of the United States. I will always do what’s right, and I will always do what’s in the best interest of the country.”
In the 6th District, Republican Mark Walker won the race to succeed retiring 15-term veteran Republican Rep. Howard Coble. Walker, a former pastor making his first run for office, defeated Democrat Laura Fjeld, who retired from the UNC system as vice president and general counsel and was also a first-time candidate.
Walker was criticized during the campaign for saying he would support a war against Mexico to help secure the border. Fjeld tried to paint Walker as extreme, but he argued he had broad support. The district extends from northern Wake and Durham counties to Mount Airy and leans Republican.
More than 150 people attended Walker’s campaign party at a Jamestown church.
Walker said he accepts responsibility to serve every person in the district – and that he will lead by building trust with constituents.
“I accept responsibility for getting government out of our lives,” he added.
Walker said he was proud that he did not run a negative advertisement. He will continue his original campaign goal, he said, which is to act like a congressman but think like a constituent.
Walker led Fjeld 59 to 41 percent with 229 of 241 precincts counted.
Fjeld told her supporters that Walker had been a gentleman the entire race.
“I have so many people to thank who joined me to give the tea party a run for their money,” she said. “We took the battle to them and fought as hard as we could.”
Lots of attention
Aiken’s history on “American Idol” and his national following made him one of the nation’s most observed congressional candidates, with the Washington Post, Esquire, Rolling Stone and other publications recording his run.
A group of about two dozen Aiken supporters – mostly women – gathered Tuesday evening in the back room of Cafe 121 in Sanford.
Aiken made a case throughout that he could beat Ellmers by drawing enough votes in the reliably conservative counties that help make up the district, including Moore and most of Randolph. He handed out “Republaiken” stickers and signs, and appealed directly to tea party adherents who are are angry with Ellmers over her position on immigration.
Ellmers sought to tie Aiken to President Barack Obama, even as Aiken tried to shake off the association. An Ellmers campaign mailer featured Aiken as a puppet holding a microphone in front of a red curtain, with Obama above and behind him pulling the strings.
In the heart of campaign season a federal judge lifted the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, but Aiken, who is gay, and Ellmers said little about it publicly.
Ellmers’ biggest foil in the campaign was U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, whom she consistently blamed for Washington gridlock.
Paul A. Specht, Laura Finaldi, Nash Dunn, Amanda Albright, and Claire Williams contributed.