Singer Clay Aiken launched a bid for a seat in Congress Wednesday with a campaign video that says he never wants to be a politician.
Aiken, who rose to fame by nearly winning American Idol in its second season, is positioning himself as a Washington outsider who won't do whatever his party tells him to, instead vowing to do what's best for constituents.
Aiken is seeking the Democratic nomination in North Carolina's second Congressional district, currently held by Republican Renee Ellmers, who was elected in 2010. The mid-term elections are this fall.
"I’m not a politician, I don’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,” Aiken says in a campaign video posted online Wednesday.
Aiken shot the video in a North Carolina home where he said he and his mother slept on a mattress on the floor of a friend's living room for months after they fled from his violent father. He describes how his mother worked hard to provide for him, how he wore clothes from thrift stores and rarely had more than one small Christmas gift.
"So much of who I am was shaped in those early years and it's part of why I decided to run for Congress," he says in the five-minute video.
Speculation Aiken would run
Aiken says he has experience making a difference in people's lives, first working as a special education teacher and later travelling to Afghanistan, Uganda and Somalia with UNICEF. He was also appointed by former U.S. president George W. Bush to sit on a commission that addressed the educational challenges of children with special needs.
Aiken then takes direct aim at Ellmers and her record in Congress, especially criticizing what he calls a lack of support for military families. Fort Bragg, a major military base, is located in the district she represents.
"Even though she knew voting for massive cuts to the military was bad for our country and our district, she voted for them anyway, 10 times, after her party leaders told her to. And when her party leaders told her to vote for the government shutdown, she did, 21 times, even though she said herself it would be a disaster for the economy. And then she complained that she needed her pay cheque," Aiken says in the video.
Aiken's official campaign launch follows weeks of speculation that he was interested in running for Congress.
Asked last week whether she considered Aiken a serious candidate, Ellmers joked about his second-place finish on American Idol.
"He didn't really fare all that well," Ellmers said in an interview on WMAL Radio in Washington. "He was runner-up.
"Apparently his performing career is not going so well and he's very bored," she said, adding that she thinks Aiken is a talented singer.
In 2012, Aiken took part in the Donald Trump reality show Celebrity Apprentice, and finished in second place. He was runner-up to Arsenio Hall.
Aiken frustrated with Washington
Aiken said in an interview on CNN Wednesday that no one recruited him to run for Congress and that he made the decision about a year ago because he was frustrated with the "dysfunction" in Washington. The criticism from Ellmers doesn't bother him, he said.
Aiken said his challenging childhood made him who he is today and that his empathy and caring for others helps make him qualified for Congress.
"As a society we have decided that lawyers and whatnot should be the people in Congress but we see what that's gotten us so far. I think understanding constituents and caring about them and their needs should be the most important qualification," he told host Brooke Baldwin.
Aiken, who is gay, indicated he won't try to convince his fellow North Carolina voters to change course and allow same-sex marriage.
"I don't think that's an issue in this particular election. It is something that is a settled issue in North Carolina, it's not something that a Congressman has anything to do with. My position on that is obviously pretty clear," Aiken said, adding that people in his district are more concerned about jobs, the economy, and taking care of veterans, than the same-sex marriage issue.
"It's not an issue that is going to be discussed much in this campaign, regardless of my views on it," said Aiken.