Singer and former “American Idol” star Clay Aiken officially announced Wednesday that he will seek to unseat U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., in the Second District of his home state of North Carolina
Aiken announced the news in a campaign video hosted by the Raleigh News & Observer. The singer, who was a runner-up in the 2003 “American Idol,” will run in the Democratic primary with the intention of unseating Ellmers in November. Ellmers, Aiken said, has been changed by her two terms in Washington and has voted against her constituents.
“She ended up in D.C. and was changed by it,” Aiken said in his announcement video. “I went to Hollywood and didn't let it change me. I won't go to Washington and let it change me.”
Throughout his pitch, Aiken casts himself as someone who is not a lifelong politician and who will not be tempted by Washington corruption. He said he plans to raise most of his campaign money though fan donations.
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“I saw this as the best place I could serve because I think Washington, in general, is dysfunctional,” Aiken told the News & Observer. “I think it’s high time we put people in Congress who were not beholden to their party and not beholden to anything but the people who they live around and grew up around, in my case.”
Aiken’s candidacy has already changed the shape of the race. Huston Barnes, a Durham attorney, has already announced that he will drop out of the primary and support Aiken. That leaves only Keith Cristo, former state commerce secretary, and Toni Morriss, a counselor, as Aiken’s opponents in the primary. Ellmers will run unopposed on the Republican side.
Though Aiken is best known for his stint on “American Idol” and his singing career, he has always maintained a strong focus on philanthropy. In 2003, Aiken used $2 million of his winnings to found the National Inclusion Project, a charity which works to include children with disabilities in activities alongside their peers.
The next year, he was appointed a U.S. Fund for UNICEF National Ambassador. In 2006, President George W. Bush appointed Aiken to a two-year term on the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Aiken has also worked with Toys for Tots, the Make a Wish Foundation, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and several more.
As for his policies if elected, Aiken says he plans to focus on jobs and education, including adult job retraining to send unemployed Americans back to work. Specifically, Aiken called out Ellmers for voting to cut funding for military families. He says he plans to hold Ellmers to her voting record.
“She didn’t have to run on her record last time,” Aiken said. “I plan on changing that. I want her to have to talk about and defend some of the things she’s done to people in this district.”
Aiken, who is gay, says he does not believe his sexuality will be an issue in the race. He would be the first openly gay congressman from a Southern state if elected.
Ellmers, however, says she doesn’t see Aiken’s candidacy as a threat.
“Apparently his performing career isn’t going so well and he’s bored,” she told a Washington radio station before Aiken formally announced his candidacy.