May 7, 2014 at 11:04 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Aiken primary too close to call
Clay Aiken's primary race was too close to call as of Wednesday morning (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Clay Aiken‘s primary race was too close to call as of Wednesday morning. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The hotly contested race between Clay Aiken and his opponent in the Democratic primary was too close to call as of Wednesday morning, although the gay “American Idol” runner-up had a slight lead in the initial vote tally.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Aiken had 41 percent of the vote in North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district compared to 39.5 percent won by former North Carolina Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco. Another candidate, Toni Morris, a professional counselor, won 20 percent of the vote. The Associated Press reported  early Wednesday the race was too close to call.

If Aiken maintains 41 percent of the vote after any kind of retabulation of the primary results, that would be enough for him to avoid a run-off, which is triggered in North Carolina when no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote in a primary. In this case, the run-off would be between Aiken and Crisco and likely be scheduled for July 15.

The winner of the Democratic primary will go on in the general election to face Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), who defeated her own challenger during the primary, Frank Roche, by a whopping 59 percent of the the vote. Ellmers is the favorite to win in the Republican-leaning district, which comprises the Raleigh suburbs.

But another gay candidate seeking to run for Congress didn’t fare nearly as well as Aiken. State Rep. Marcus Brandon, who was vying for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina’s 12th congressional district, only secured 8 percent of the vote in a crowded primary race. Had he won, he could have been the first openly gay black person elected to Congress.

The winner of the primary was State Rep. Alma Adams, who won 44 percent of the vote. Because no Republican candidate even filed in the heavily Democratic district, her primary win means she has secured the seat in the general election.

Although Aiken hasn’t received an endorsement from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Brandon received an endorsement. A Victory Fund official declined to comment on Brandon’s loss.

Besides Aiken, the general outcome for the primary wasn’t favorable to gay candidates in the state. As QNotes’ Matt Comer reports, gay candidates running for the state legislature — Ty Turner and Derek Kiszely — lost in their bids for the Democratic primary. For the first time in 10 years, the North Carolina General Assembly will have no openly LGBT representation.

Jen Jones, a spokesperson for Equality North Carolina, said the lead that Aiken enjoys following the primary is “bittersweet” when compared to the losses of other gay candidates.

“We also at Equality North Carolina believe the presence of openly LGBT state electeds have become absolutely essential in order to reflect, and truly represent, what is now nearly a quarter of a million LGBT North Carolinians in the state they call home,” Jones said.

Also of note on the night of the primary was that House Speaker Thom Tillis defeated his opponents to secure the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat. Tillis, who won 47 percent of the vote, beat his more conservative opponents obstetrician Greg Brannon and Baptist pastor Mark Harris by double-digits.

The victory of Tillis — who headed the state legislature in 2012 when it passed Amendment One, the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in North Carolina — means he’ll face off in the general election against Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). Hagan, who’s considered among the most vulnerable Democrats in the mid-term elections, opposed Amendment One, voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal even before the Pentagon report on open service came out and endorsed marriage equality last year.

Although Tillis once predicted Amendment One would be repealed within 20 years, Jones said the candidate reasserted his support for the measure as he campaigned against conservative opponents in the primary.

“We are in full support of a pro-equality candidate to face him in the November [election], Kay Hagan, who does believe in the freedom to marry and did not support Amendment One in 2012 and beyond,” Jones said.

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

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