(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- In a race more dramatic in its last moments than an American Idol finale, Clay Aiken is locked in a close race of the Democratic primary in which he holds a narrow lead for North Carolina's 2nd congressional district. With more than 99 percent of the votes counted, unofficial returns from the North Carolina Board of Elections show the 2003 Idol runner-up was only besting businessman and former state commerce secretary Keith Crisco by 369 votes, reports USA Today.
A third candidate, family counselor Toni Morris, is in last.
Aiken spoke to supporters late Tuesday night and got a laugh when he said he “prefer(s) it when they just open the envelope and tell you who won.” “We are comfortable not only with the results we’ve seen this evening. We are comfortable not only with how we’ll feel tomorrow morning, but more than anything we’re comfortable with the way this campaign was run,” Aiken said.
Aiken was outspent by Crisco, who ran four television ads to Aiken’s one, but Aiken may have benefited from higher name recognition. The singer was recently endorsed by the man who beat him in the Idol competition over 10 years ago — Ruben Studdard, who tweeted last week he was “proud of my friend” and “we need more people like him in Congress.”
The singer turned congressional hopeful said celebrity can be a double-edged sword. “There’s obviously a little bit of a hurdle that we’ve had to overcome. Obviously the name recognition is a plus — it gets people to the table,” Aiken told ABC News while visiting polling places Tuesday. “There is that challenge of getting people to see me in a different light, to change the lens that they’re looking at me through, but the name recognition has gotten people to the table and gives us the chance to actually talk to people. And once we actually talk to people, it’s easier to get them to look at me in a different way.”
In his announcement video, Aiken said he is “not a politician” and he didn’t “ever want to be one, but I do want to help bring back, at least to my corner of North Carolina, the idea that someone can go to Washington to represent all the people, whether they voted for you or not. ”
It’s possible that he will get his chance now, but his — or Crisco’s — general election battle will be steep. Republican Rep. Renee Elmers, the incumbent, is heavily favored and she has outraised Aiken by almost six times. If he makes it through the runoff, Aiken may be able to reel in some national Democratic money on his name ID and celebrity status, but it still will be a difficult race for any Democrat in the conservative district.
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