Former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken is running for Congress


The former American Idol contestant announced in a video on his website that he's running for Congress "to help people in need and give them a voice."

He will run as a Democratic candidate for United States Congress in North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District -- the seat is currently held by Republican Renee Ellmers.

Aiken told ABC11 in an interview Wednesday that he decided to put his entertainment career on hold and seek the seat in Congress to listen to people and take their needs and concerns to Washington.

"I don't think people do that in DC," Aiken said. "I think politics nowadays is dysfunctional -- an embarrassment -- and people don't do that, they go up and represent their own interests too often."

Despite his lack of political experience, Aiken points to some of the life experiences he's had, which he outlines in his video. Plus he says, the number one requirement for the job is to represent the people of the district, something he says he feels Ellmers has not done.

"I think the qualifications of representing people is caring about them, listening to them," Aiken said. "You know we have 435 representatives up there who think they have the answer to everything, and when they get up there they don't listen to each other and they don't listen to the people they're representing."

However, Aiken may have to convince some people that he's more than just an entertainer and that this is more than just an attempt to get back in the spotlight.

"If I wanted to get publicity and get people to like me, I think Congress is probably the last place I would go," he said.

The 35 year old, who grew up in North Carolina and works as a special-education teacher for students with autism, founded the National Inclusion Project that serves children with special needs in North Carolina and 34 other states.

As for issues he wants to focus on, Aiken says he wants to focus on the economy and creating jobs, as well as serving the interests of military members and their families.

In the meantime, Aiken is expected to face former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco of Asheboro and licensed professional counselor Toni Morris of Fayetteville in the Democratic primary.

Businessman Houston Barnes withdrew his candidacy Wednesday, saying he will endorse Aiken.

"The emergence of so many candidates in this race illustrates Congresswoman Ellmers' vulnerability; I am confident in my decision to stand beside Clay and to support him in this race," Barnes said in a press release early Wednesday morning.

Aiken is not short on star power, but analysts are already wondering if he has the political savvy to survive the primary.

"Just having a famous name is rarely enough to win elected office," said ABC political analyst Rick Klein.

Klein says Aiken's reputation could be hard for the new candidate to get past, especially in a conservative district made more conservative with recent redistricting.

"I think his fame will box him in but more than that. You're going to see an intense scrutiny over everything he has said, tweeted, or hinted at over the years. People are going to dredge that up and they are going to play hardball with Clay Aiken," Klein said.

Klein says Aiken's challenge is getting voters past their preconceptions of him.

Think he is all about gay rights because he is gay? Not necessarily.

"I don't think issues like same sex marriage are part of the discussion in this state," Aiken said.

Think he is far left because of his Hollywood ties? Try again.

"I'm not on either end of the political spectrum at all. I think most Americans and North Carolinians fall somewhere in between these extremes. I don't believe that running a candidate on one or the other end of the political spectrum is how you connect with voters," Aiken said.

Klein says it is too early to tell how well Aiken will connect with voters to get into office, but says it should not take long to find out.

"If he's got some real political chops, this is a wonderful opportunity for Clay Aiken. If he doesn't have those chops, we're going to learn that very quickly," Klein said.

Ellmers told ABC11 in a statement Thursday that she welcomes Aiken to the race.

"First we recognize he'll have to win a Democratic primary with Keith Crisco in a district that overwhelmingly chose Mitt Romney over Barack Obama and are unlikely to send a liberal to Washington who will further the President's agenda," she said in part.

However, when asked about a potential challenge from Aiken during a recent interview on a Washington, D.C. radio station she replied, "His performing career is not going so well. He's very bored."

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