“I’m not a politician,” says Clay Aiken in the video announcing his candidacy for a U.S. House seat. “I don’t ever want to be one. But I do want to help bring back, at least to my corner of North Carolina, the idea that someone can go to Washington to represent all the people, whether they voted for you or not.”
What is very clear in the compelling, nearly five-minute video released Wednesday, is that Aiken seriously wants to be the Democrat on the fall ballot facing Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers in North Carolina’s 2nd District. And though an Aiken win in the conservative district has to be considered a long shot, and he hasn’t even made it past the primary, the 35-year-old reintroducing himself and making his case wants you to know that he’s more than an “American Idol” runner-up.
In the video, Aiken sets the stage in a modest room in a house identical to many across the state. It’s where, he says, his mother, carrying a year-old Clay, sought refuge with a friend, away from her husband. “My father could be a violent man who would get drunk and angry, and he’d decide that mom was the reason for the pain in his life,” Aiken says.
In January, when the speculation about an Aiken candidacy began, it was reported that he was meeting with political consultants and Democratic officials. He obviously listened to their advice. In his announcement, he moves from his own situation to the current challenges in the state. “More families are struggling today than at any time in our history. And here in North Carolina, we’ve suffered more than our share of pain.”
When he says “I’ve been fortunate in my life,” it’s an understatement, but he brushes past his performing resume to answer a question he knows voters are going to ask, “What would qualify me to run?” He concentrates instead on his time as a special education teacher of children with autism and his visits to war-torn countries as a UNICEF ambassador.
Aiken burnishes his bipartisan credentials by mentioning his appointment by President George W. Bush to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, and he criticizes Ellmers for her party-line votes favoring the government shutdown and military cuts, an issue that Aiken surely hopes will resonate with the soldiers, families and civilian employees at Fort Bragg and other military bases close by.
Aiken mentions his faith as a motivation, and in an interview with the News & Observer, he said on Tuesday, “I think it’s high time we put people in Congress who were not beholden to their party, and not beholden to anything but the people who they live around and grew up around, in my case.”
Aiken, who had spoken out against North Carolina’s constitutional amendment declaring marriage between one man and one woman the only valid, legal domestic union, said he thinks the fact that he is gay will not be an issue. “People care about jobs, they care about the economy, they care about being able to pay for college,” he told the News & Observer.
Ellmers seems more concerned with a primary challenge from the right, specifically conservative radio talk-show host Frank Roche, who says her record is too moderate. In an email to the paper, a spokeswoman called Aiken “a performer whose political views more closely resemble those of San Francisco than Sanford.”
Ellmers herself dismissed a possible Aiken candidacy, telling a Washington radio station earlier this week, “Apparently his performing career isn’t going so well and he’s bored”; she also mocked his second place “Idol” finish.
“Maybe I should be flattered that she’s worried enough she thinks she needs to stomp me down,” Aiken countered in the News & Observer interview.
That’s just a taste of the political theater that an Ellmers-Aiken debate — with tea party members and “Claymates” sitting side by side – might provide.
While this congressional contest may not have gotten very competitive, particularly since redistricting made it even more of a Republican lock, it has certainly gotten a lot more interesting.