'American Idol' runner-up Clay Aiken winning political respect in North Carolina

Fri May 2, 2014 5:45pm EDT
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By Colleen Jenkins

CARY N.C. (Reuters) - "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken readily signs autographs and poses for selfies with voters in his bid for a North Carolina congressional seat, but tries hard to keep his pitch at campaign stops focused on political issues.

"I have done my very best not to sing," said Aiken, 35. "Because I think there's a challenge ... to get people to not see me as a singer but instead as someone who is capable and wants to fight for them."

The entertainer has gained respect as he seeks the Democratic nomination in his home state's 2nd congressional district next Tuesday. In April, the Washington-based Cook Political Report admitted surprise after Aiken proved to be well-versed on political affairs, "washing away any notion he's another superficial, stage-managed Hollywood star dabbling in politics as a new hobby."

Even so, political experts say the first-time candidate is in an uphill, perhaps futile, battle to win the primary and then unseat the incumbent in a district North Carolina's Republican-led legislature re-drew to favor their party.

U.S. Representative Renee Ellmers, 50, a former nurse, beat a moderate Democrat for the seat during the Republicans' national electoral sweep in 2010 and two years later won her second term with 56 percent of the vote.

In mid-April, her campaign had nearly six times more cash on hand than Aiken's, finance reports show, and most analysts predict she will be re-elected in November, barring any serious gaffes or a better-than-expected turnout for Democrats.

"(Aiken) can do everything right and still basically end up having no chance because of factors beyond his control," said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

But Aiken, who lives in Cary and taught special education in North Carolina before his 2003 "Idol" appearance launched his singing career, remains unconvinced that the unwieldy U-shaped district is too conservative for a Democrat to win.   Continued...

Democratic nominee Clay Aiken signs an autograph for a constituent after a campaign forum in Cary, North Carolina, April 28, 2014.  REUTERS/Colleen Jenkins