North Carolina is determined to make you look.
The state is not merely content to give observers whiplash by turning from a narrow vote for Barack Obama in 2008 to installing a Republican-controlled legislature in 2010 whose laws over the past year – on everything from voting restrictions to education cuts — have protesters marching.
Now a sprinkling of show business has added razzle-dazzle to the political mix.
Last week, the big news was a report that well-known 2003 “American Idol” runner-up and North Carolinian Clay Aiken, 35, is considering a run for Congress. Compared to that headline, the Indian Trail (N.C.) Town Council member who wrote portions of his resignation letter in “Klingon” was just a distraction.
It’s a race that may not happen, of course. Aiken’s potential candidacy was first reported by the Washington Blade, which said the singer has been having meetings in Washington and North Carolina to weigh a bid. Post Politics confirmed that Aiken met with former Democratic pollster Peter Hart, though the story said he is not working for Aiken.
The race in question, in the state’s conservative 2nd Congressional district, would be a difficult win for any Democratic challenger. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) now holds that seat. She won a squeaker against the Democratic Rep. Bob Etheridge in 2010, and was re-elected handily in 2012 after redistricting made the district more favorable for Republicans.
Ellmers chairs the Republican Women’s Policy Committee, a group of women in the House that seeks to expand the party’s appeal to female voters, whom the GOP has had trouble attracting. Despite her work for the party and past support from tea party members, she is being challenged from the right this year by conservative radio talk-show host Frank Roche, who says her record is too moderate.
If he decided to run, Aiken would have company and competition on the Democratic side as well, including entrepreneur and attorney Houston Barnes and perhaps former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco, who has filed paperwork for a campaign committee. The primary is in May; the filing deadline is Feb. 28.
But Aiken’s interest is more than another North Carolina curiosity. He has not been content to release albums on schedule. Besides music, TV and Broadway (a run in “Monty Python’s Spamalot”), Aiken has traveled internationally as a UNICEF ambassador and was appointed by former president George W. Bush to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in special education at UNC-Charlotte, and is co-founder of the National Inclusion Project to benefit children with disabilities.
In 2012, when North Carolina was set to vote on an amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage between a man and a woman as the only valid and legal domestic union, Aiken, who is gay, was featured in a video opposing the move. At the time, he said the amendment, which eventually passed overwhelmingly, “just goes too far.” In the video, Aiken, who has a son, said it would hurt the rights of children in families that “look different.” He has spoken about anti-gay bullying on Capitol Hill, and has been open about practicing an inclusive Christianity.
North Carolina, a state that likes its options, has been showing signs of discontent with politicians in and out of office. Voters favored Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race, and many have since questioned conservative moves by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor. McCrory has been criticized in protests that resulted in more than 900 arrests during last year’s legislative session in Raleigh.
Will that rebellion ultimately benefit a native son who gained national recognition on a reality show, if Aiken chooses to enter another contest?
Aiken has had some trouble cracking the top spot, with No. 2 finishes on both “Idol” and Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Maybe he’d just like to win one.