Former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken‘s bid to unseat Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers in North Carolina’s Second Congressional District elicits the following analysis from Michelle Cottle for The Daily Beast.
Aiken’s boyish charms notwithstanding, it promises to be an uphill fight. Post 2010, the once-purplish second district was redrawn to be solidly red. (Romney pulled 58 percent of the vote there in 2012.) If you think Simon Cowell can be brutal, just wait until the GOP starts slinging mud and lobbing bombs to protect one of its own in this southern enclave it’s worked so diligently to hold on to.
But regardless of who wins, Aiken’s candidacy guarantees more money, more sizzle, and way more coverage than the district could otherwise have dreamed of, because, gosh darn it, celebrity pols are just so much fun for journalists, political operatives, and garden-variety voters alike.
Whatever the particular issues under debate, we all get to stand around gawking at the sight of a bona fide famous person—be it Arnold Schwarzenegger or Heath Shuler or Ben Jones (the incomparable Cooter from Dukes of Hazzard)—wading through the dehumanizing cesspool of our electoral process. Some prove surprisingly adept at it (Al Franken, Jesse Ventura, the Gipper…). Others, not so much (Shirley Temple, country star Roy Acuff, NASCAR great Richard Petty …). And some you simply cannot wrap your mind around (Jerry Springer, porn stars Stormy Daniels and Mary Carey, Victoria Jackson, the Donald…) …
… On the great spectrum of celebrity pols ranging from earnest wonks (a la Bill Bradley) to self-aggrandizing ass-clowns (looking at you, Donald), Aiken falls on the more serious—and certainly more earnest—end. Before he was an Idol contestant, he was a special ed teacher. Post-Idol, he started a foundation, The National Inclusion Project, that seeks to “bridge the gap that exists between young people with disabilities and the world around them.” In 2004, he was named an ambassador for UNICEF. In 2006, he was appointed by George W. Bush to serve on the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. None of which guarantees that the voters of North Carolina’s conservative second district will rush to embrace the openly gay Democratic pop star, but at least it gives him something to talk about beyond what Trump’s hair looks like up close.