The Washington Blade reported Friday that multi-platinum singer Clay Aiken is “actively considering” a Democratic Congressional bid in his native North Carolina. While it’s not clear yet whether he’ll follow the path of Ashley Judd, who considered a Kentucky Senate run before deciding against it, or singers like Sonny Bono and Orleans’ John Hall, both of whom made it to Congress, the race he’s considering is an intriguing one.
Aiken would reportedly challenge second-term Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican elected narrowly in 2010 and re-elected with about 56 percent of the vote in 2012. Her 2010 campaign featured what Salon called “most baldly anti-Muslim ad of the year,” in which she opposed the Park51 Islamic Community Center in New York City as a “victory mosque” for terrorists. The district has a Republican tilt — about 10 points more Republican than the country as a whole according to the Cook Political Report — and gave Mitt Romney 58 percent of its vote in 2012.
Aiken, who is openly gay and campaigned against North Carolina’s marriage inequality constitutional amendment, might face an uphill battle in a state that passed the amendment less than two years ago, by a 61 to 39 margin. A September poll found that while support for marriage equality is growing in the Tar Heel state, just 43 percent support it. Aiken would be the first out member of Congress from any Southern state. Beyond symbolism, he has a record of advocating for LGBT equality and against bullying.
Given his involvement with education, youth with disabilities, and global youth poverty, it seems likely that programs for children would be a key focus of Aiken’s political agenda. His college degree is in special education and began his adult life as a teacher working with kids with autism. After working as a mentor to an young man with autism, Aiken and the teen’s mother founded a non-profit — now the National Inclusion Project which works to expand recreational and educational programs for children with disabilities. Aiken is current chairman of the foundation. He has also served since 2004 as a UNICEF Ambassador.
Though Aiken once observed that his “fan base is very ‘red state’ typically,” he has at times rankled some of the Republicans whose support he’d likely need to win a majority in the North Carolina 2nd District. Aiken drew criticism in 2012 from some after a later-deleted Tweet in which he mocked the Republican Party for its lack of diversity. “Playing drinking game with my brother now,” he wrote. “We drink every time we see a black person on screen at the RNC convention. #soberasamormon” Country singer John Rich, a Romney supporter, blasted the tweet as “racist.”
But Aiken has some bipartisan credentials. In 2006, President George W. Bush appointed Aiken to his President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. At the time, Bush’s Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Wade F. Horn said that by the appointed, Bush was “strengthening the care, attention and services for people with intellectual disabilities.”
And he has drawn praise in the past from even birther Donald Trump. As a contestant on NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice, Aiken was the runner up and drew praise from The Donald, who said he was “tough,” “smart,” and “cunning.”
After coming in second on both Celebrity Apprentice and American Idol, maybe on the third try Aiken could come in first and win in North Carolina’s 2nd District.