Unlike in his “American Idol” days, Clay Aiken hopes he won’t be second best this time.
The singer made famous from the reality show has a slim lead in the Democratic primary for U.S. House in North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District, the state Board of Elections reports early Wednesday. The race is so close it may result in a runoff.
Aiken is reportedly leading former North Carolina Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco by 369 votes with more than 99 percent of the vote counted. The candidates are looking to unseat incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in November. Ellmers was first elected in the tea party wave of 2010.
Aiken’s candidacy generated buzz from his singing career and appearances on “American Idol” and “Celebrity Apprentice” – where he was a runner-up in both contests. He also would be the first openly gay congressman from a Southern state if elected.
“There’s obviously a little bit of a hurdle that we’ve had to overcome. Obviously the name recognition is a plus — it gets people to the table,” Aiken told ABC News while visiting polling places Tuesday. “There is that challenge of getting people to see me in a different light, to change the lens that they’re looking at me through, but the name recognition has gotten people to the table and gives us the chance to actually talk to people. And once we actually talk to people, it’s easier to get them to look at me in a different way.”
Crisco outspent Aiken in the primary race and dominated the airwaves with ads, including one that criticizes Aiken for missing meetings of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
On the Republican side, Ellmers comfortably beat her challenger Frank Roche, a former foreign currency trader, for the nomination. Either Democratic candidate will be an underdog in the general election race in November since Ellmers’ district is known to lean to the right. In 2012, Mitt Romney won 57 percent of the vote there.