Clay Aiken, the Democratic challenger in the 2nd Congressional District, said easing the transition for military personnel as they leave the service for civilian life would be a top priority for him as a congressman.
Aiken, who gained fame as an “American Idol” contestant, said he is running because he can bring wide attention to important issues.
“Veterans affairs is the thing that I find to be the most pressing and most specific to this district,” Aiken said in an interview with The News & Observer editorial board Tuesday.
The 2nd Congressional District covers all or parts of nine counties, including precincts in Wake County’s western suburbs, parts of Harnett and Chatham, Fort Bragg and the neighborhoods around it, and Moore County and its retirement communities.
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“Veterans’ issues are an important part of my job, even as a candidate,” Aiken said.
He proposes finding ways to bridge the gap between active duty and Veterans Affairs for service members. Homelessness and unemployment result when that transition is difficult, he said.
He’d like more overlap between support offered by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said.
He came into the race with an interest in jobs and education.
Aiken is a first-time candidate running against two-term incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn. Ellmers, a Republican, won the district in 2010 by beating a veteran Democrat. The legislature then recast the district to make it easier for a Republican to win.
Aiken spoke to the editorial board the day after his contentious televised debate with Ellmers, who called him an “entertainer” and implied he didn’t understand Washington. Aiken said Ellmers pays more attention to House Speaker John Boehner than she does the district.
Aiken’s candidacy is widely considered to be a long shot, but he believes he can win, claiming Ellmers is unpopular with voters and doesn’t pay attention to constituent needs.
Parts of the 2nd Congressional District used to be represented by Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican well-known for his constituent service and voter contact. “He knew everything about Moore and Randolph,” Aiken said.
Aiken drew a comparison between Ellmers and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who suffered an upset loss in a primary this year. He said they both neglected their districts because they believed they couldn’t lose.
Patrick Sebastian, a senior adviser to the Ellmers’ campaign, vigorously disputed claims her constituent service is weak.
Ellmers’ director of constituent service based in Randolph County used to work for Coble.
“Her constituent service has been lauded since she’s been in the House,” Sebastian said. The claim that Ellmers neglects the district has no merit, Sebastian said.
“This is coming from a world-class hypocrite,” he said, because it’s Aiken who fails to meet his commitments.
Aiken was appointed by former President George W. Bush, to the Presidential Commission for People with Disabilities, but didn’t show up, Sebastian said. Minutes show that Aiken attended only one meeting.
“This is a guy who can’t even show up for work,” he said. “That he wants to criticize Congresswoman Ellmers is pretty absurd.”