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Could Aiken pull off a congressional surprise?

Political expert says singer has ‘zero’ chance of winning N.C. district

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Clay Aiken, gay news, Washington Blade
Clay Aiken's potential candidacy for Congress is stirring debate (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Clay Aiken‘s potential candidacy for Congress is stirring debate (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The possibility of a Clay Aiken candidacy for Congress has generated significant buzz as political observers say the gay singer and “American Idol” runner-up has plenty to offer, although big questions remain about whether he could pull off a win.

Last week, the Washington Blade first reported that Clay Aiken was “actively considering” a run for North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district. In a follow-up report, the Washington Post confirmed that Aiken was weighing a bid for the seat, which is currently held by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.).

Democratic sources familiar with his plans told the Blade that Aiken has spoken with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, met with political operatives in Washington and Raleigh and paid a visit to the D.C.-based Hart Research Associates to examine polling.

It’s unclear when — if at all — Aiken will make an announcement on whether he’ll pursue a bid for Congress. Via Twitter, Raleigh news affiliate WRAL-TV reported that Aiken told a station producer prior to the Blade report that he wasn’t running for Congress, but the singer hasn’t said anything about a run directly since the Blade broke the story last week.

Ian Palmquist, former chief of Equality North Carolina, said he thinks the general election in a district largely comprised of the Raleigh suburbs, will be tough for any Democrat, but not impossible for Aiken.

“Clay Aiken has some real strengths: He’s from the district, he’s a former teacher, he’s well-liked, and saying he has name recognition is an understatement,” Palmquist said. “To be a strong candidate he would have to show voters a more policy-oriented side than they know him for now and earn the support of key primary constituencies, including African Americans.”

Palmquist added Aiken’s fame alone from his music and Broadway career after his 2003 stint on “American Idol” won’t be enough to propel him to victory.

“His fan base doesn’t necessarily align with his progressive politics, so he would have to expand his base of support significantly to succeed,” Palmquist said.

Although a Republican currently sits in U.S. House seat for North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district, the area was formerly represented by a Democrat in Congress prior to redistricting and the Tea Party boomlet in 2010.

Still, the district is favorable to Republicans. Ellmers won re-election in the district by taking 55.9 percent of the vote in the 2012 election — a year that was favorable to Democrats. Moreover, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the same year beat Obama in the district by 15.6 points.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said Aiken doesn’t have a prayer in the general election against Ellmers.

“His chances of winning the general election? Probably approaching zero,” Rothenberg said. “And that’s being generous. Both McCain and Romney carried the district easily. It isn’t competitive, especially in a midterm election with President Obama’s job approval sitting where it is nationally.”

Aiken, who came out as gay in 2008 in People magazine, also would have competition for the Democratic nomination to run for the seat. Former North Carolina Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco officially announced his candidacy on Monday. Also in the ring is Houston Barnes, an attorney.

The filing deadline to participate in the primary is Feb. 28. The primary itself in North Carolina is set for May 6.

The DCCC hasn’t responded to the Blade’s request for comment on a potential run by Aiken for weeks — before and after the initial report. DCCC spokesperson David Bergstein wouldn’t confirm his interest in running to other media outlets, including Politico, but said Ellmers deserves a challenger.

“Congresswoman Ellmers is responsible for the most unpopular and reckless Congress in history that’s put the middle class at greater risk but it’s up to potential candidates to talk about whether they’re interested in running for Congress, not us,” Bergstein reportedly said.

The Ellmers campaign declined to comment on the possibility of going up against Aiken during the general election.

Although the “American Idol” runner-up is best known for his music and Broadway career, he’s also drawn on his fame to 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.

He’s also taken part in LGBT activism. In 2012, just before North Carolina voted to approve a ban on same-sex marriage known as Amendment One, Aiken appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” to speak out against the measure.

In 2010, the singer appeared at a briefing on Capitol Hill on behalf of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, to urge passage of anti-bullying legislation with LGBT protections known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

Daryl Presgraves, a GLSEN spokesperson, said GLSEN started working with Aiken four years ago, and in addition to wanting to use his platform to protect LGBT youth, he showed a specific interest in policy.

“After he gave a powerful and moving speech at a congressional briefing we held in 2010 in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act, it wouldn’t have surprised any of us at GLSEN if you told us that he would consider running for office one day,” Presgraves said. “He has a clear passion for helping others and recognizes the power to do so through policy.”

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Comings & Goings

Cummings joins White House Office of National Cyber Director

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John Cummings

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]

Congratulations to John Cummings on joining the Office of the National Cyber Director at the White House as Director of Supply Chain and Technology Security. Upon getting the position, he said, “I am beyond thrilled to join the growing team at the National Cyber Director’s Office and bring my experience to our mission of mitigating the cyber threats facing our nation and ensuring every American can enjoy the full benefits of the digital ecosystem. It is truly a privilege to work with this incredibly brilliant and collegial group of cyber experts.” 

Prior to joining the White House, Cummings served as Associate General Counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Before that role, he served as interim Chief Counsel for ODNI’s National Counterintelligence and Security Center and as Associate General Counsel for the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.

He has provided legal advice and counsel on matters of government-wide and interagency policy and national security in the areas of executive authority, cyber, constitutional law, civil rights and civil liberties, legislative affairs, and international cooperation. He has worked on recruiting LGBTQ, women, and minority applicants for government roles in national security and is experienced in public relations, stakeholder relationships, and international partnerships. 

Cummings began his career clerking for the Honorable Ivan L.R. Lemelle, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and also clerked for the House Committee on Homeland Security and the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security.

He attended Villanova University where he received a bachelor’s degree in English. He earned his J.D. from Loyola Law, New Orleans, and his LL.M. in National Security Law from Georgetown Law.

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U.S. Supreme Court

LGBTQ activists alarmed over concurring opinion in abortion ruling

Justice Thomas calls for ‘reconsideration’ of marriage, sodomy rulings

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Photo public domain)

LGBTQ activists have expressed alarm over a concurring opinion issued on Friday by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas calling for the high court to “reconsider” previous decisions overturning state sodomy laws and legalizing same-sex marriage as a follow-up to the court’s controversial ruling on Friday to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights.

In an action that drew expressions of outrage from abortion rights advocates and strong support by right-to-life advocates, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 ruling on Friday overturning the fundamental right to an abortion that the court established nearly 50 years ago in its landmark decision known as Roe v. Wade.

In his concurring opinion, Thomas said he supports the high court’s majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. He states that he agrees with the ruling that nothing in the majority opinion “should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

But he also states that in potential future cases, “we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”

He was referring to the past Supreme Court Griswold ruling that overturned state laws banning or restricting birth control such as contraceptives; the high court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling that overturned state laws banning sodomy between consenting adults; and the 2015 Obergefell ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

“Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion is obviously concerning, but it is important to note that not one other justice agreed with him,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights advocacy group. “In fact, the majority took pains to disagree with him and clarify that this opinion relates only to abortion. Justice Thomas stands alone,” Warbelow told the Washington Blade in a statement.

“With that said, we know that if the court was willing to overturn 50 years of precedent with this case, that all of our constitutional rights are on the line,” Warbelow said. “Lawmakers will be further emboldened to come after our progress. So, we must be vigilant in protecting our hard-won rights — we’re ready.”

Paul Kawata, executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), said the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade would have a “disastrous effect” on healthcare for women, especially women of color. He said the ruling could also lead to future rulings that adversely impact LGBTQ people and other minorities.

“We have no doubt that the conservative supermajority on the court will not stop with Roe,” Kawata said in a statement. “Justice Thomas’s chilling concurring opinion makes it very clear that the court could target other rights provided by the court — marriage equality, contraception access, and LGBTQ+ intimacy in private to name a few,” he said.

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Maryland

Abortion rights in post-Roe Maryland, Delaware

Practice generally legal, with some restrictions

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (Public domain photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 found that the decision to receive an abortion was generally protected by the Constitution of the United States. With the broadest federal protection of abortion access now rescinded, the legality of abortion will by and large be determined on the state level.

In Delaware, abortion is legal through the Medical Practice Act — but with some restrictions.

After fetal viability, or the point where a fetus can survive outside the uterus, abortion in the First State becomes illegal unless necessary for the patient’s “life or health,” or if the fetus has a condition “for which there is not a reasonable likelihood” that it will survive outside the uterus, according to Subchapter IX of the act

Additionally, under the state’s Parental Notice of Abortion Act, physicians cannot perform a surgical abortion on minors under the age of 16 unless the patient’s parent or guardian has received at least 24 hours notice from a medical professional. Notice is not required for nonsurgical abortions.

On the federal level, the funding of abortion is illegal through the 1977 Hyde Amendement “except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest,” according to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive rights advocacy organization. States are only federally required to fund abortions that meet these conditions through federal-state Medicaid programs. 

While some states also fund abortions deemed medically necessary regardless of whether they endanger a patient’s life, Delaware state law does not extend beyond federal guidelines: The state only funds abortions in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.

Abortion legislation in Delaware mirrors neighboring Maryland, whose laws include similar restrictions on abortion after fetal viability and abortion for minors under the age of 16. But abortion laws in these states are generally more restrictive than other mid-Atlantic counterparts, such as New Jersey and New York.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) weighed in on the state’s abortion law on Friday.

“In 1992, Maryland voters approved a constitutional referendum legalizing and protecting access to abortion as a matter of state law – that measure remains in effect today following the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson. I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Maryland, and that is what I have always done and will continue to do as governor.”

The impact of Roe v. Wade’s fall in Delaware remains uncertain. While the abortion rate in Delaware steadily declined between 2014 and 2017, recent findings show that instances of abortion are increasing once again in the state, reflecting a rise on the national level.

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