Metro Weekly

“American Idol” alum Clay Aiken to run for U.S. Congress in North Carolina

Campaign announcement marks beginning of Aiken's second bid for Congress, this time in a Democratic-leaning district.

clay aiken, gay, congress
Clay Aiken on a panel at 2016 Politicon at the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, California – Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Clay Aiken, the gay former American Idol alum, has announced his intention to run for Congress in his home state of North Carolina, marking his second foray into the world of electoral politics.

On his new website, Aiken, 43, refers to himself as a “loud and proud Democrat” and a “10th generation North Carolinian” who will be seeking the Democratic nomination for the new 6th Congressional District, a solidly Democratic district covering part of “The Triangle” area.

Although Republicans in the state legislature produced and passed a highly gerrymandered map that gives Republicans a 10-3 edge (with one swing district) in the state’s congressional delegation, by leaving The Triangle area largely intact, the map provides Aiken with a rare opportunity to reach Congress as long as he can win a Democratic primary. 

However, Aiken, who will be running to replace retiring U.S. Rep. David Price (D), faces a tough obstacle in the district. Because the district is so heavily Democratic, the Democratic primary will likely be crowded, making it harder for any single candidate to reach the threshold required to win the nomination. Under state law, if that occurs, the top two candidates head to a runoff election.

“I intend to use my voice to deliver real results for North Carolina families, just like David Price has done for decades,” Aiken said in a statement on his website. “I’ll always stand up for my principles and fight for inclusion, income equality, free access to quality health care, and combating climate change. I also believe we need more civility in our politics, and North Carolina deserves representatives in Washington who use their positions to make people’s lives better, not to advance polarizing positions that embarrass our state and stand in the way of real progress. As my mom taught me: ‘you can disagree without being disagreeable.’

“In Congress, I’ll use my voice to advocate for common-sense policies that encourage continued job growth and healthy communities,” he added. “Many of these political battles divide us as people, threaten our democracy, and weaken America. North Carolinians are worried about affordable health care and rapid inflation. They are worried about their retirement savings and are frustrated by crowded interstates and infrastructure that hasn’t kept up with our rapid growth. These are the issues that matter, and these are the issues I will focus on in Congress.”

This marks Aiken’s second bid for Congress. In 2014, he won a three-way Democratic primary and the party’s nomination to challenge former Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R) in a heavily-gerrymandered Republican-leaning district. He ultimately lost the general election by 18 points, but outperformed many political observers’ expectations as a candidate in that race.

In his current bid, Aiken faces at least six other Democrats, including two state senators, a Durham County Commissioner, two college professors and a virologist. David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College, told Raleigh NBC affiliate WRAL that although Aiken ran a “credible campaign” in 2014, he isn’t in as strong a position due to the crowded field, Aiken’s lack of political experience, his dissipating name recognition.

That said, while three of Aiken’s opponents have records of winning elections, Aiken enjoys the largest social media following of all the candidates — which he can attempt to utilize much in the way former President Donald Trump successfully used his social media accounts to rally followers to his cause and marshal their political power to win the Republican nomination, and, ultimately, the presidency in 2016.

In an announcement video, Aiken called out two GOP figures largely reviled by Democratic base voters: U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who represents a district in western North Carolina, and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. Aiken called Cawthorn, who claims the 2020 was stolen from President Trump, a “white nationalist,” and Robinson, who has gone on several anti-LGBTQ rants in recent months, a “hateful homophobe.”

He compared Cawthorn and Robinson’s incendiary and divisive rhetoric to that of Congresswomen Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), saying political extremists are “taking up all the oxygen in the room.”

Aiken also said Democrats have to get better about speaking out on issues of importance — including racial and economic inequality, voting rights, gun violence, and access to health care — and being more inclusive of divergent views by being a “big tent” party.

“We [Democrats] are the ones who are going to solve the country’s biggest problems, and we are the ones who are going to defend our most precious rights,” Aiken says in the video. Then, as two rainbow flags beating the image and likeness of Cawthorn and Robinson drop behind him, he jokes: “Just think how excited these guys are going to be when we elect the South’s first gay congressman. [If] the loudest and most hateful voices think they’re going to speak for us, just tell ’em I’m warming up the ol’ vocal chords.”

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