Long Shot

01.03.14

Clay Aiken Couldn’t Beat Ruben Studdard. Can He Beat Renee Ellmers?

The ‘American Idol’ star is reportedly considering a run in North Carolina. Why stealing hearts on TV may not translate to winning over voters in his deeply conservative home district.

The last time Clay Aiken was in an election, he received around 12 million votes and lost. If the former American Idol contender runs for Congress from his native North Carolina, as the Washington Blade reports he is considering, he’ll only need about 100,000. The problem for Aiken, a Democrat, is that he’ll have a hard time getting them.

Aiken is considering running in North Carolina’s 2nd District, a deeply gerrymandered seat that forms a somewhat-lopsided U that stretches across the middle of the state and manages to avoid both urban areas and significant concentrations of black voters.

The seat is held by second-term Rep. Renee Ellmers, who won her first election by fewer than 1,500 votes—against incumbent Democrat Bob Etheridge, who was hurt by an incident in which he pushed a Republican tracker on video in a confrontation on a Washington, D.C. street. After Ellmers’ election, the district became significantly more Republican via redistricting.

Aiken would still likely be the best candidate that Democrats could attract. He’d be able to raise a significant amount of money and draw a ton of national attention.

The question is whether Aiken would be a competitive candidate. While a Democrat does hold a similarly Republican district in the Tar Heel State, it’s Rep. Mike McIntyre, who has repeatedly voted against the Affordable Care Act and co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In contrast, the openly gay Aiken would have a difficult time transitioning from Broadway star to rural Blue Dog Democrat.

Even so, Aiken would still likely be the best candidate that Democrats could attract. He’d be able to raise a significant amount of money and draw a ton of national attention. Plus, Ellmers is likely to face a primary challenge: Elected as a Tea Party candidate, she’s upset some ardent conservatives with her steadfast support of Speaker John Boehner and House GOP leadership since arriving in Washington.

So far, national Democrats are staying out of the picture and letting Aiken make up his mind. David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement to The Daily Beast: “Congresswoman Ellmers is responsible for the most unpopular and reckless Congress in history that’s put the middle class at greater risk, but it’s up to potential candidates to talk about whether they’re interested in running for Congress, not us.”

Aiken has plenty of time to decide if he wants to follow in the footsteps of celebrities like Ronald Reagan, Al Franken, and Sonny Bono in running for office. North Carolina’s two-week-long filing period begins Feb. 10.