Aiken Will Get Media Attention, But Victory Is Unlikely

Feb 6, 2014

Michael Bitzer
Credit WFAE

Clay Aiken’s announcement to run in the Democratic primary and to ultimately face U.S. Representative Renee Ellmers in the state’s second congressional district certainly has gained the media’s attention.

However, that's likely all he will gain.

Yes, with his “American Idol” fame, Aiken certainly has name recognition.

Name recognition helps challengers establish credibility, not just with the potential voters, but also with financial backers.  And certainly, with his “Claymates” and potential for tapping into Democratic-supporting resources, Aiken will be able to bring a considerable amount of resources that another lesser-known candidate could not.

But in the end, the judges may determine that his electoral performance will cause him to come in second, yet again.

In 2012, Mitt Romney beat President Obama with 58 percent of the vote in the district. Ellmers won 56 percent of the vote in the district as well. 

The district stretches through a substantial part of the rural middle of the state, encompassing some areas that are traditionally home to southern conservative registered Democrats, or as we would most likely describe them, Republicans. 

In addition, the incumbent usually needs to be in some form of trouble, whether it be scandal or a tidal wave of anger against incumbents.  While the mood of the nation toward Congress continues to scrape the lower end of approval ratings, the likelihood is that we will continue the past tradition of electing incumbents who run for re-election.

Over 90 percent of U.S. House incumbents win re-election.

The fact that most districts are no longer prone to the split-ticket phenomenon (see Rep. Mike McIntyre’s decision to retire rather than run again in the neighboring 7th Congressional District) presents the reality that a district’s voting behavior at the top of the ticket funnels down the ballot as well.

As was pointed out in the Washington Post, 88 other House Districts are more “blue” than the Second district, meaning that Democrats would likely have better chances to win those districts than in the one Aiken is challenging.

Finally, the makeup of the North Carolina electorate will be a factor.  As I pointed out in a previous post last year, Republicans tend to have a greater presence in mid-term elections than their registration numbers would suggest: in both 2006 and 2010, 37 percent of the ballots were from registered Republicans. 

In comparison to presidential elections in 2008 and 2012, only 33 percent of the ballots cast by registered voters came from the GOP.

Yes, the North Carolina 2nd Congressional District will carry a lot of media attention.

But barring a major scandal by Ellmers or a significant Democratic tsunami, expect Clay Aiken to repeat his runner-up status this November.