Clay Aiken's star power put to the test in North Carolina
POSTED: Monday, May 5, 2014 - 1:57pm
UPDATED: Monday, May 5, 2014 - 2:12pm
(CNN) -- Second place won't cut it this time.
North Carolina voters head to the polls Tuesday for the state's primary. And that means it's show time for Clay Aiken, the 2003 "American Idol" runner-up-turned Democratic congressional candidate.
Aiken announced his bid for the 2nd Congressional District in February, in the hopes of challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers. Aiken faces two other Democrats vying for the Ellmer's seat -- Keith Crisco, a textile entrepreneur, and Tony Morris, a licensed family counselor.
Despite his name recognition, if Aiken wins on Tuesday, his star power might not be enough to sway the Republican tilt in the district.
Ellmers, who's held the seat for two terms, is a tea party favorite, elected in the 2010 conservative grassroots wave that swept Republicans into the majority in the House.
She won re-election with 56% of the vote in 2012. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama in the district by a 58-41 margin - an even wider margin than Romney bested Obama in the state overall, 50-48.
But Ellmers faces a primary challenge from conservative talk-radio host Frank Roche, thanks in part to her willingness to consider some immigration reform efforts.
On top of the state's recent election results, Aiken and fellow Democrats face a tide of an anti-all-things-Obama sentiment among voters.
Obama's health care law remains unpopular in North Carolina. That, coupled with Obama lackuster approval ratings (which are hovering in the low to mid 40's), could be a drag on Democratic candidates across the board in this year's midterm elections.
In short, North Carolina's 2nd District, which spans the central and eastern parts of the state, isn't friendly territory for a Democrat.
Still, some top non-partisan political handicappers have said if circumstances were different, Aiken might not be facing such an uphill battle.
"I think this will become the highest profile, non-competitive race in the country. If Aiken wasn't running as a Democrat in a Republican district in President Obama's second midterm, he might have a decent shot," Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, told CNN after Aiken launched his bid in February.
"Being on American idol doesn't change the fact that he's a Democrat in a Republican district."
Throughout his bid, Aiken has contended that his personal story - growing up in a broken home fraught with domestic violence -- qualifies him for Congress.
Aiken is openly gay. He came out in 2008, five years after gaining national notoriety on "American Idol," coming in second to Ruben Studdard in the show's second season.
In 2010, North Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Aiken has called the gay marriage debate "a settled issue in North Carolina," and has instead focused his campaign on jobs and the economy.
The general election is on November 4.
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