Clay Aiken, who rose to prominence as a finalist on American Idol in 2003 and came out in 2008, announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district in a YouTube video posted Wednesday.
Emphasizing his childhood growing up as the son of a single mom and later work as a special education teacher, Aiken alluded to his time on American Idol, which launched his singing career.
"For most Americans, there are no golden tickets. At least not like the kind you see on TV," Aiken says. "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."
The 35-year-old Aiken's entrance into the Democratic primary race casts a national spotlight on the attempt to unseat Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers. Ellmers was elected to Congress in 2010, defeating seven-term Democratic Rep. Bob Etheridge. Ellmers won reelection in 2012 with 55.9 percent of the vote.
"The district where I'm running is represented by a Congresswoman who I believe went to Washington with good intentions," Aiken states in his candidacy announcement. "I'd like to think that people don't go there with anything else."
As reported by The News and Observer, an analysis by the North Carolina Board of Elections shows the congressional district evenly divided along party lines, with 36 percent registered as Democrats, 36 percent Republican and 28 percent unaffiliated.
Although Aiken only announced his candidacy today, Ellmers has already launched criticism at Aiken.
"As we know he doesn’t always fare all that well. He was runner-up," she said during a radio interview earlier this month. "Apparently his performing career isn't going so well and he’s bored."
Hours after Aiken’s announcement, Ellmers campaign appeared to already be focusing in on Aiken’s sexual orientation. In an email to The News and Observer, a spokeswoman for Ellmers described Aiken as “a performer whose political views more closely resemble those of San Francisco than Sanford.”
Aiken has been active in various causes, including LGBT issue, and spoke out against North Carolina's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. In September 2006, Aiken was appointed to a two-year term by President George W. Bush to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.