May 6, 2014 at 10:51 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Big day for gay candidates in N.C.
Marcus Brandon, Clay Aiken, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, North Carolina, gay news, Washington Blade

Marcus Brandon (left) and Clay Aiken are facing primaries today in North Carolina. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

The outcome of today’s primary in North Carolina will determine whether gay candidates in the state will carry the Democratic banner heading into the congressional mid-term elections.

Two openly gay candidates are on the ballot in congressional races: State Rep. K. Marcus Brandon, who’s running to represent North Carolina’s 12th congressional district, and Clay Aiken, who’s seeking the seat for the state’s 2nd congressional district.

Aiken has faced significant challenges during his congressional bid. Despite the buzz over his celebrity status and distinction as a runner up on “American Idol,” Aiken has raised only $287,000. Meanwhile, his opponent in the primary, former North Carolina commerce secretary Keith Crisco, has raised $680,000.

Crisco has also been hitting Aiken with negative ads. Aiken has touted his work on behalf of children with disabilities, but one Crisco ad with the slogan “No Show Clay” questions his commitment.

The ad asserts that after Aiken was appointed in 2006 to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, the singer never showed up to meet with the group. Aiken, who notes his membership on the panel on his campaign website, reportedly said in response he showed up for the first meeting of the group.

Whoever wins the election in the Democratic primary will go on to face Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), who’s considered the favorite in the Republican district.

Also facing a challenging primary is Brandon, who if elected could become the first openly gay black member of Congress. He’s in a crowded primary among five Democratic candidates seeking to replace former Rep. Melvin Watt, who left Congress to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

State Rep. Alma Adams is considered the front-runner in the race. She’s raised $386,000 compared to the $254,000 that Brandon has raised, although he’s in second in terms of funds raised among the candidates in the crowded field.

The 12th congressional district is heavily Democratic, so whoever wins the Democratic primary will more than likely have the seat secured. But if no candidate secures 40 percent of the vote, which is likely, a run-off election for the top two vote-getters will take place on July 15.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund has endorsed Brandon, but Aiken received no endorsement from the group.

Another race of note is the primary for the Republican nomination to run for U.S. Senate in North Carolina. House Speaker Thom Tillis, obstetrician Greg Brannon, and Baptist pastor Mark Harris are vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C), who’s considered among the most vulnerable Democrats in the mid-term election.

All the Republican candidates have expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. Hagan, who spoke out against North Carolina’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, endorsed marriage equality last year.

As QNotes’ Matt Comer reports, gay representation in the state legislature is also at stake in the primary. Openly gay candidate Ty Turner is among a field of five candidates in the primary State Senate District 40, which is near Charlotte. Gay state candidate Derek Kiszely is running Kim Hanchette in House District 49.

But even if he wins the primary, Kiszely is unlikely to win the general election because he’s running in a Republican district. That means if Turner loses in the primary, the state General Assembly will likely have no gay representation for the first time in 10 years.

Polls opened today at 6:30 a.m. and will close at 7:30 p.m.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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