The Washington Post

Think you know everything about Clay Aiken? Think again.

Former "American Idol" star Clay Aiken is on the verge of securing the Democratic nomination Thursday in North Carolina's 2nd district, two days after appearing to win the primary. (Absentee ballots trickling in could change that.) His lead is currently 369 votes.


Clay Aiken speaks to supporters during an election night watch party in Holly Springs, N.C., on May 6. Aiken is seeking the Democratic nomination for North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District. (Gerry Broome/AP)

Most people know Aiken from his days battling Ruben Studdard on "Idol" 11 years ago. (You know, back when people watched it.) But what about Aiken the congressional candidate? Here's what you need to know about him.

1. If Aiken wins the primary, he'll stand only a slim chance of winning the general election. 

The 2nd district, represented by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R), isn't swing territory. Mitt Romney won nearly 60 percent of the vote there. As Aaron Blake noted in February, just three House Democrats represent districts that are more conservative than the 2nd; in two of those seats, the Democratic incumbent is retiring and Republicans are heavily favored to take over. Eighty-eight House Republicans represent districts that are more liberal than the 2nd. So despite all the attention Aiken is getting, he's not likely to be roaming the halls of Congress next year.


Rep. Renee Ellmers (R). (Ted Richardson/AP/News & Observer)

2. Aiken took his mother's maiden name. 

Aiken was born Clayton Holmes Grissom. Estranged from his father and raised by a single mother, Aiken opted to take his mother's name. Aiken emphasized his difficult early years in his campaign's introductory video.

3. He's underscoring his commitment to addressing the needs of children with disabilities. 

Aiken has taught children with autism. His campaign Web site details his work in this area, including his decision to form a nonprofit to help include kids with disabilities more often in activities with other children.

4. But he missed meetings on a presidential commission. His primary opponent reminded voters of that.

As Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts reported on The Reliable Source in 2008, Aiken made it to only one of the quarterly meetings of the Presidential Committee for People With Intellectual Disabilities since being appointed to it by George W. Bush a year and a half prior. Keith Crisco, Aiken's Democratic opponent, ran an ad casting Aiken as "No Show Clay."

5. Aiken is running as a defense spending hawk. 

As Real Clear Politics' Adam O'Neal noted:

The North Carolina Democrat has staked out hawkish positions on defense spending.

In his first campaign video, he criticized Ellmers for voting in favor of "massive cuts to the military" that were "bad for our country and our district." He accused the congresswoman of voting "against the best interests of North Carolina military families and those who depend on the military for their jobs."

5. He does not think being gay matters in his campaign. 

"It's not an issue for me. It is not an issue for most of the people who I speak with in this district," Aiken told NBC News.

6. Ruben Studdard endorsed him. 

Aiken's old "Idol" rival is backing his campaign. He even recorded a radio ad.

7. Aiken's on a "singing sabbatical" during his campaign. 

Aiken's campaign isn't going to be a musical one, he told Stephen Colbert.

8. The uncertain outcome of the Democratic primary has inspired many Aiken/Idol jokes on Twitter. 

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

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The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
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