Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 24, 2014

Clay Aiken Could Be Runner-Up in House Primary

Clay Aiken Could Be Runner Up in House Primary

Aiken is running for Congress in North Carolina. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

“American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken could come in second place again on Tuesday – this time in a congressional primary in North Carolina.

Aiken is running for the Democratic nomination in the Tar Heel State’s 2nd District, along with former North Carolina Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco and mental health counselor Toni Morris. All three are looking to take on GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers in this heavily Republican district in November.

But the “Idol” star has largely banked on his famous name to get him through the May 6 primary — and the state’s political operatives say his celebrity status may not be enough to win the nomination.

Even Aiken’s campaign is hedging their chances.

“We’ve been outspent and that concerns me,” said Gary Pearce, a longtime North Carolina Democratic operative who advises Aiken’s campaign. “Clay has a lot going in the district and has strong popularity, but right now I wouldn’t be surprised either way.”

In an April 12 phone interview with CQ Roll Call, Aiken said he was confident about his primary chances, touting his own campaign’s poll that showed him with a 20-point lead.

“In all honesty, Keith has name recognition that is substantially lower, and we are having every expectation to save everything for the general,” Aiken said. “The general is going to be an expensive one, so determining how much we care to put into a primary that we are feeling pretty confident about, versus saving some for the general, is where the decision is now.”

But the dynamics of the race have shifted since then.

Aiken reported disappointing fundraising. Privately, North Carolina Democrats said his campaign spent too much money on initial start-up costs and consulting fees — and not enough on direct voter communication.

“This is a quintessential celebrity campaign that is way too top heavy and way too focused on everybody getting paid and not talking to voters,” said one North Carolina Democratic operative unaffiliated with the race.

Crisco, Aiken’s top primary opponent, outspent Aiken on the television airwaves by nearly a 4-to-1 margin in the primary, according to a source tracking media buys in the district.

Crisco brought in $755,000 for his bid through the April 16 — including $530,000 in personal loans to his campaign (see more House campaign fundraising numbers here). It was enough to get Crisco on the television airwaves in March – two months before the primary – to raise his familiarity with voters in the district.

To compare, Aiken raised $287,000 through April 16, the pre-primary reporting deadline for the Federal Election Commission. The sum was unexpectedly small for a celebrity candidate, who can often raise large amounts from famous friends.

Of those funds, Aiken spent $57,000 in advertising production and editing costs for a web video and 30-second bio spot, according to his fundraising reports filed with the FEC. A larger chunk of his campaign funds, $87,000, went toward consultant fees and polling.

Democratic operatives tracking media buys in the district estimate Aiken spent about $100,000 to air his 30-second bio spot on Raleigh broadcast networks in the two-weeks leading-up to the primary.

Meanwhile, Aiken has been fielding attacks from Crisco on television and in a direct mail piece.

The attacks hit the “Idol” star for not attending meetings for the President’s Commission for People With Intellectual Disabilities – a post Aiken was nominated for by then-President George W. Bush.

Aiken touts the post in his biographical spot as one of his key qualifications for Congress.

“Crisco has been on the air talking about North Carolina values for a long time, and as soon as Aiken went up on the air, Crisco had the [attack] ad on the air,” said another North Carolina political operative with no ties to the race.

So far, Aiken has not answered Crisco’s accusations in paid advertisements in the district. Instead, he’s been defending himself and attacking Crisco in national media appearances on MSNBC and Huffington Post Live — outlets that probably don’t get a lot of eyeballs in a rural North Carolina district. 

To be sure, anything can happen in a low turnout primary in a midterm election year. And Aiken’s famous name could boost him to victory in a primary.

Regardless, the Democratic nominee will have a steep uphill climb in November.

Mitt Romney carried the seat with 58 percent in 2012, making it one of the strongest Republican districts in the state.

The race is rated a Safe Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

  • MrBeasley

    Let me guess. Emily Cahn is a republican.

  • MrBeasley

    Let me guess. Emily Cahn is a republican.

    • DoucheOwebama

      GTH, you brain dead Gay Aiken (for man sausage) d*ck sucking Libtard WH*RE B*TCH.
      GFY.

  • Giselle Singer

    Wow, then why not say it like it is? Crisco is probably buying the Democrat primary out of his own fat pocketbook, money largely made from his company turning out products made with extremely cheap labor in Central America. In fact the two manufacturing plants there are larger than his two NC plants combined. WHY is no one talking about this? Crisco claims to be a job maker. Yeah, really? I have been to Honduras twice and the working and living conditions there just plain suck.

    The numbers don’t lie when it comes to campaign finances that are public information. I just wish the public had a much better grasp of this information.

  • Giselle Singer

    Wow, then why not say it like it is? Crisco is probably buying the Democrat primary out of his own fat pocketbook, money largely made from his company turning out products made with extremely cheap labor in Central America. In fact the two manufacturing plants there are larger than his two NC plants combined. WHY is no one talking about this? Crisco claims to be a job maker. Yeah, really? I have been to Honduras twice and the working and living conditions there just plain suck.

    The numbers don’t lie when it comes to campaign finances that are public information. I just wish the public had a much better grasp of this information.

  • Guesticula

    I’ve suspected this may be how things were going to shake out. Saw far too much cockiness from the Aiken campaign, and too much overconfidence. It was a huge mistake to take the primary voters for granted, and passing up countless opportunities to meet with and connect with the actual voters in the district in favor of jetting to NY and LA to raise funds with out-of-state individuals displays a real tone-deafness, especially with less than a week to go in the primary campaign.

    Crisco may not be the most dynamic personality, but he has been working hard to connect with the actual voters, and that may in the end count for more than all of the national TV appearances Aiken can muster. I believe that the majority of voters will decide that Crisco’s lifelong dedication and experience will count for more than the latest in a long line of celebrity runs for higher office.

    I also have to admit that the “No Show Clay” meme has hurt Aiken more than he may care to admit. Not being able or willing to defend himself from these charges shows that he things it is a trivial charge, but it actually hits him in a real vulnerable place – and choosing to not address it in a media buy is not smart politics. (This presumes that he even has the finances to do such a thing in the first place – but if Aiken can’t fund a response ad to Crisco, what hope would he have against Ellmers and her deep pockets?)

    Anyway, when the only response most voters have seen to the “No Show Clay” accusation has been for Aiken to actually abandon the district to make appearances in the national media, or fundraising in NYC – well, that’s pretty dumb.

    • Giselle Singer

      Wow, so you are a psychic and can tell what the Aiken campaign is thinking? Must be nice. Hopefully your psychics also are telling you that if Crisco wins the primary, his mudslinging tactics and personal $$$$$$ financing of said ads in the primary will haunt him forever since — as you implied — Ellmers has support of very, very rich PACs that make Crisco’s money look like chump change.

      PS – Your use of the term cockiness and overconfidence is puzzling. But then again, you obviously have an agenda. To each his own.

  • Guesticula

    I’ve suspected this may be how things were going to shake out. Saw far too much cockiness from the Aiken campaign, and too much overconfidence. It was a huge mistake to take the primary voters for granted, and passing up countless opportunities to meet with and connect with the actual voters in the district in favor of jetting to NY and LA to raise funds with out-of-state individuals displays a real tone-deafness, especially with less than a week to go in the primary campaign.

    Crisco may not be the most dynamic personality, but he has been working hard to connect with the actual voters, and that may in the end count for more than all of the national TV appearances Aiken can muster. I believe that the majority of voters will decide that Crisco’s lifelong dedication and experience will count for more than the latest in a long line of celebrity runs for higher office.

    I also have to admit that the “No Show Clay” meme has hurt Aiken more than he may care to admit. Not being able or willing to defend himself from these charges shows that he things it is a trivial charge, but it actually hits him in a real vulnerable place – and choosing to not address it in a media buy is not smart politics. (This presumes that he even has the finances to do such a thing in the first place – but if Aiken can’t fund a response ad to Crisco, what hope would he have against Ellmers and her deep pockets?)

    Anyway, when the only response most voters have seen to the “No Show Clay” accusation has been for Aiken to actually abandon the district to make appearances in the national media, or fundraising in NYC – well, that’s pretty dumb.

  • Andy Szekeres

    He does have a radio spot with another American Idol alum – http://youtu.be/ypYpLlg0JNk

    • Tarheel

      Surely he can’t think pulling another AI alum in is a smart choice. BTW, he never taught a day after he earned his degree.

  • boots

    My understanding is that Crisco has loaned his campaign $700,000 to date. Aiken corrected Crisco`s much lower number that he stated at a meeting with senior voters this week with Crisco looking on sheepishly. Now why would a businessman self fund that much? Could it be tax loopholes for companies that take their jobs off shore as Crisco has done with his own company. Is it that he feels that he can get deregulation passed for the coal ash spill which he has termed in writing “non toxic”. Lets see Crisco move his family next door to it and see if he still calls it non toxic. As far as as Aiken campaigning in his own district he has been doing that non stop since he announced he was running. The NYC and LA fundraisers were 2 nights. Otherwise he has been meeting with voters and listening to their concerns in his district. Also starting and running a foundation for 11 years directly helping ( Summer camps, After school programs and school curriculum) disabled children and their families is much more productive and necessary than a few meetings. Aiken has said that he made it clear that he did not have time to attend due to his tour recording schedule. They said that was fine because they would get the publicity by using his name. An interviewer this week admitted that was not at all unusual to be done. I am sure his foundation`s materials etc. would have been provided if the other members of this committee truly wanted to accomplish something in their paltry 8 meetings. Voters are sick of people just thinking they can buy their way into just to profit themselves and their buddies as Crisco is clearly doing. His surname fits!

  • Al Egro

    Adam Smith first realized that we had stumbled upon ways to cooperate which enabled us to overcome the limits of our own personal knowledge.

  • Tagg Heurer

    If we are to choose our own way, rather than having it dictated to us, our rewards must result from using our talents and abilities wisely.

  • Bob Stauskas

    Those who understand the interdependence of morality, liberty, and prosperity also recognize that a government of principles and wisdom is impossible when democratic processes are subjected to a subservient people.

  • DoucheOwebama

    Does anyone else find it odd that Gay Aiken (for man sausage) is running against a guy named ‘Crisco’…?

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