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Clay Aiken discusses "Ruben & Clay's First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show" with the Build Series in November 2018 in New York. Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Clay Aiken, 'American Idol' runner-up, aims for Congress again

RALEIGH, N.C. — Former "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken announced Monday he's running for Congress again in North Carolina, this time seeking to succeed the retiring U.S. Rep. David Price.

In a video announcing his bid in the 6th District, Aiken said he's joining the already crowded field for the Democratic primary, which has been delayed from March to mid-May due to litigation.

Aiken, 43, has had a career in music, theater and reality shows — in addition to political and social activism — since finishing second to Ruben Studdard on the TV singing contest in 2003.

"Hey, folks. It's been awhile. Now, I know I look a little different these days, but we've met before," he says in the video.

Aiken won the Democratic nomination for a largely rural central congressional district in 2014, edging former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco. But he lost in the general election to then-Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers, receiving 41% of the vote.

While that district was comfortably Republican, the proposed 6th District that Aiken is running in is overwhelmingly Democratic. It includes all of Orange and Durham counties — home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, and very affluent western Wake County.

The high-tech Research Triangle Park is within the 6th District, and where Price has been serving almost continuously since 1987.

Aiken, who grew up in North Carolina and now lives in the Raleigh area, said he'd work to promote inclusion, provide free, high-quality health care and fight climate change.

"As a loud and proud Democrat, I intend to use my voice to deliver real results for North Carolina families, just like David Price has done for decades," Aiken said in a news release.

The 6th District primary winner would almost assuredly win the general election. The state's congressional map is being challenged in court as an illegal gerrymander, however, meaning the lines could be altered and candidates may reconsider the district in which they could run. But any Triangle-area district should favor a Democrat.

Announced 6th District Democratic primary candidates include state Sens. Valerie Foushee of Orange County and Wiley Nickel of Wake County; Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam; and virologist Richard Watkins.

Aiken, who would be the first openly LGBTQ person elected to Congress from the South if he won in November, said he would provide a counterweight in state politics to hardline Republicans such as Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn. Many Democrats have called on Robinson to resign for comments he's made about sex education in schools that critics say disparaged LGBTQ people.

"As Democrats, we have got to get better about speaking up and using our voices, because those folks ain't quieting down anytime soon," Aiken says in the video.

Aiken said it was Price who helped him get interested in politics as a child. He told The News & Observer of Raleigh that when his eighth grade middle-school class studied the 1992 election, Aiken asked his teacher if he could invite a politician to speak, and contacted Price, who agreed.

Aiken's celebrity status is not quite as strong as it was eight years ago, and he still has not served in elected office before, Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said in an interview Monday. But Aiken proved to be a credible candidate in 2014 and could benefit in the primary from efforts to link himself to Price, he said.

The top two vote-getters would advance to a runoff if the leading candidate does not receive more than 30% of the vote.

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