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Clay Aiken sees his celebrity status as both a blessing and a curse in run for Congress

Former "American Idol" star and North Carolina congressional candidate Clay Aiken (D) said Tuesday that his celebrity status is a double-edged sword in his underdog bid to unseat Rep. Renee Ellmers (R).

"It's a blessing in the fact that it gets me in the room, but I have to overcome the fact that people see me in one way and not the other," Aiken told NBC's "Today."

Aiken narrowly won the Democratic nomination earlier this month, edging out former state commerce secretary Keith Crisco, who died suddenly after suffering a fall just days after the election.

One of Aiken's biggest challenges is the conservative lean of Ellmers's district. Mitt Romney won nearly 60 percent of the vote there in 2012. With that in mind, Aiken is trying to run a campaign that eschews party labels.

"I think people are tired of partisan politics," he said.

Aiken, who is openly gay, reiterated that the debate over gay marriage is not a top-of-mind issue for most voters in the district and does not come up often in his discussions with voters.

"We're talking about the things that are affecting people's lives and that's not necessarily one of them," he said.

A defense spending hawk who has made the concerns of military personnel a centerpiece of his campaign, Aiken declined to say whether Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki should resign over a VA scandal that has received considerable national attention.

"I think we have a lot of people who are making decisions without being in the room," Aiken said. "I'm not going to be one of those folks."

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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