Clay Aiken is apparently thinking about running for Congress in his home state of North Carolina. That’s the rumor roiling Tar Heel State political circles Friday, in any case. The “American Idol” singer hasn’t confirmed this yet, but there’s a story about the possible candidacy in the Washington Blade that’s got lots of details and sounds well sourced.
Mr. Aiken, the Blade says, has talked to D.C. political operatives about running as a Democrat in North Carolina’s Second Congressional District outside Raleigh. He’s started making phone calls to gauge support in the state and is working with a woman named Betsy Conti, a Raleigh strategist and former aide to ex-Gov. Bev Perdue.
“Another Democratic source said Aiken was in D.C. last month meeting with pollsters at Hart Research Associates to examine polling data with one of the partners at the firm,” writes the Blade’s Chris Johnson.
The Blade focuses on issues of importance to the gay, lesbian, and transgender community. Aiken, who said he is gay in 2008, finished second in the “American Idol” competition in 2003, and he's since become one of the bestselling artists to emerge from the competition. Does he have the star power and political chops to pull off a Democratic victory in a state that went for Mitt Romney in 2012?
Well, first of all, someone or some group wants him to try. That’s our reading of the anonymously sourced Blade story. It reads like a leak intended to push further into the political arena someone who’s considering a bid for office. The usual suspects for this would be locals who think he represents their best chance to unseat GOP incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers or national groups who think he’d bring issues they support to the fore.
It’s also possible that Aiken himself leaked the story, as a classic trial balloon.
Second, victory in this case isn’t an impossible dream. The Second District was represented by a Democrat, Rep. Bob Etheridge, from 1997 until 2011. Mr. Etheridge lost to Ms. Ellmers in the GOP landslide of 2010. Aiken could easily raise lots of money, which can make a big difference in a House race. Plus, he’d be running in a state that isn’t shy about electing celebrities. Remember Rep. Heath Shuler? He’s a former NFL quarterback who was also a three-term conservative Democratic lawmaker from North Carolina’s 11th District. (Mr. Shuler declined to run for reelection in 2012 after redistricting made the 11th more Republican.)
But in the end, Aiken would still face a tough race. In fact, our prediction is that like Ashley Judd, who toyed with opposing Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) in Kentucky, Aiken eventually will decide not to run in 2014. Midterms are not hospitable environments for political neophytes of the incumbent presidential party. They’re especially tough if you’re running in a state that’s lately leaned the other way, in a district that’s become more solid for your potential opponent.
Political prognosticator Charlie Cook rates North Carolina’s Second District as “solid Republican” in his Cook Political Report. So does University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato in his “Crystal Ball” newsletter listings.
John McCain beat Barack Obama by 12 percentage points in the Second in 2008. Mr. Romney won it in 2012 by almost 17 points. Those numbers indicate that any Democrat faces a steep uphill climb in the district this year.