Politics

Democrat Aiken goes for GOP-heavy House district

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Singer-songwriter Clay Aiken doesn't have a problem with name recognition. But that doesn't mean voters in North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District will send the "American Idol" star to Washington to represent them in Congress.

Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers has represented the district for two terms and would like to make it three. The tea party favorite has a good shot at doing so. The GOP-controlled state legislature gave Republicans the advantage when they redrew congressional districts in 2011. A veteran House Democrat who barely survived in 2012 opted to retire at the end of his term, while others in President Barack Obama's party face an uphill battle — even a well-known personality like Aiken.

North Carolina offers clues as to why Democrats have little chance to retake control of the House from Republicans in the 2014 elections. An unpopular president in his sixth year in office combined with a divisive health care law are a drag on Democrats and energize core Republican voters in what are traditionally low-turnout midterm elections.

Ellmers, a 50-year-old nurse first elected in the tea party wave of 2010, captured 56 percent of the 2012 GOP primary and the general election vote in her district. That year, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won nearly 6 in 10 votes in the district and narrowly defeated Obama statewide.

So precisely drawn were the state's new congressional districts, and so unpopular is Obama in the state that Rep. Mike McIntyre in December dropped his re-election plans. McIntyre represented North Carolina's 7th Congressional District for nine terms and is the only Democrat in Congress who has never voted for the Affordable Care Act, Obama's health care law.

But North Carolina's rightward shift hasn't stopped Aiken and two other Democrats from competing ahead of the May 6 primary for the right to challenge Ellmers in November. National Democrats and their supporters are expected to pour money into the top-of-the-ticket race to defend the seat held by Sen. Kay Hagan and the party's six-seat Senate majority.

Also running in the 2nd District's Democratic primary are textile entrepreneur Keith Crisco and Tony Morris, a licensed family counselor. Crisco and Aiken are touting their credentials as centrists. "I don't care what party they're in," Aiken says of voters in the central North Carolina district, "I'll talk to whoever."

Aiken believes he can tap into voters' dissatisfaction with Congress. And he said reporters are the only people asking whether being a gay man could impede his campaign to represent such a conservative district.

Follow Emery Dalesio on Twitter: http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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