Under the Dome

Aiken, Crisco exchange verbal punches

Keith Crisco’s congressional campaign has sunk its teeth into what it sees as a weak spot for opponent Clay Aiken: the former entertainer’s failure to attend meetings of a national committee on people with disabilities.

Aiken found himself defending his absences again on Wednesday, this time on national TV, where he went on the offensive and said Crisco was trying to buy the election with a largely self-funded campaign.

Crisco launched the attack in a TV ad last week, and is following it up with repeat mailers hammering away at the same slogan: “No Show Clay.”

President George W. Bush appointed Aiken to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities in 2006. It’s comprised of 34 members, including 19 citizens and 13 federal government members. It meets at least twice a fiscal year and convenes informally during the year.

Minutes posted on the committee’s website don’t show Aiken attending meetings during his appointment, although Aiken says he did attend the first one. Aiken mentions the appointment in his campaign material.

“If Clay Aiken won’t show up for something he really cares about – do you think he will show up for us in Congress?” Crisco’s ad says.

Aiken’s campaign has previously explained to Dome the no-show record. Aiken repeated the explanation Wednesday appearing on MSNBC host Ronan Farrow’s show: He said the committee understood that he had a heavy touring schedule at the time. “But I gave my name and my voice and that was what was important to them at the time,” he said.

“I take quite a bit of offense to the fact that someone would question my record on children with disabilities,” Aiken said. “I’ve dedicated my life over the past 11 years and before to working toward advocating for children with disabilities.”

“American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard has been enlisted to defend Aiken in a radio ad that began running over the weekend, saying Aiken had dedicated his life to helping people with disabilities, including by establishing a foundation.

Crisco’s campaign issued a news release calling Aiken’s explanation “weak.”

“Clay wants the recognition but he’s not willing to do the work,” Crisco said in the release. “With the exception of his swearing-in ceremony, Clay missed every single meeting of the Presidential Committee on People with Intellectual Disabilities – eight out of eight. ... . Clay Aiken wants the credit but he’s not willing to do the work. That’s not strong leadership. That just shows that Clay Aiken isn’t ready for Congress.”

Crisco added: “We don’t need another song and dance in Washington.”

AWashington Post blog reported in 2008 that Aiken missed six of seven meetings.

Asked by Farrow about Crisco’s having raised more money than him, Aiken pointed out that Crisco has loaned himself more than half a million dollars. The latest campaign finance reports show Crisco’s loans accounting for more than 70 percent of the money he has raised.

“His ability to self-fund his campaign – to me it’s an example of someone who is trying to buy a seat,” Aiken said.