Gay singer and “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken is actively considering a bid to represent North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House, according to two Democratic sources familiar with his plans.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the 35-year-old Raleigh native has taken initial steps for a run, including consulting with political operatives in Washington, D.C., about a bid for the seat.
One Democratic source said Aiken made phone calls to gauge support, talked to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and has met with figures in Raleigh, N.C., about a potential bid. Although it’s unclear when Aiken might formally announce a decision, the source said Aiken is “actively considering” it and “sounding and acting like a candidate.”
To help explore a run, the source said Aiken has been working with Betsy Conti, a Raleigh-based political strategist who’s worked for former North Carolina Gov. Bev Purdue and Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in addition to serving as Maryland’s deputy labor secretary in the Glendening administration. It’s unclear whether Aiken has formally hired her or anyone else to help with his bid.
Another Democratic source said Aiken was in D.C. last month meeting with pollsters at Hart Research Associates to examine polling data with one of the partners at the firm.
The DCCC hasn’t responded to multiple requests to comment about a potential Aiken candidacy in the past few weeks. Neither Conti nor the Hart Research Associates responded to the Blade’s request for comment on Thursday.
Aiken himself was unable to be reached for comment. A Los Angeles-based management company known as the Firm, which reportedly represented Aiken for his music career in the last decade, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Aiken wouldn’t be the only candidate on the Democratic side to pursue a run for the House seat, which is currently occupied by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.). Former North Carolina Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco is expected to formally announce his candidacy on Monday. He formed a campaign committee to explore a run in December.
The filing deadline to participate in the primary is Feb. 28. The primary itself in North Carolina is set for May 6.
Although the polls indicate Republicans may be favored as the mid-term elections approach on a general ballot, the Democratic nominee — whether it’s Aiken, Crisco or someone else — may have a shot at the seat, which comprises Raleigh and was controlled by Democrats before the Republican surge in 2010. A House Democratic aide, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, described the second congressional district as a “winnable seat” for Democrats.
After finishing in second-place on Fox’s “American Idol” in 2003, Aiken used the prominence he gained from performing on the show to launch a successful music and Broadway career. He’s sold more than six millions copies of his albums, and, according to Forbes, made $1.5 million in 2010.
Aiken has also drawn on his fame to help promote causes as an activist. He co-founded the the National Inclusion Project, formerly the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, which seeks to help children with disabilities. Tapped as a national ambassador for the United States Fund for UNICEF in 2004, Aiken has travelled to Afghanistan, Indonesia, Uganda, Mexico, Kenya and Somalia as part of aid missions.
The singer has also taken part in LGBT activism. In 2010, the singer appeared at a briefing on Capitol Hill on behalf of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, to urge for passage of anti-bullying legislation with LGBT protections known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
“Like many kids now in middle schools and high schools, I was bullied,” Aiken said at the time. “I was picked on, I was called gay, I was called fag, I was called sissy, you name it. Fortunately, I was able to overcome it and live through it because of a number of friends who were supportive of me.”
Dogged by rumors about his sexual orientation during his appearance on “American Idol” and over the course of his musical career afterward, Aiken came out as a gay in 2008 by appearing on the cover of “People” magazine with his then-infant son Parker Foster Aiken.
“It was the first decision I made as a father,” Aiken told the magazine. “I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn’t raised that way, and I’m not going to raise a child to do that.”