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News and Observer - (Editorial) Endorsement: Clay Aiken would help unlock congressional gridlock

October 23, 2014
In The News

October 23, 2014 

Clay Aiken doesn’t sing on the campaign trail, but his voice still compels attention and deserves applause. Residents of North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District would do well to have him speak for them. We support his election.

Aiken, who gained fame as a singer and runner-up in the 2003 “American Idol” competition, uses his voice now to discuss how he will support education, ease the burden of student debt and help veterans and members of the military who face troubles with joblessness, substance abuse and health issues. He’s also committed to being a moderate voice who will seek a way past the partisan gridlock that has this Congress on track to be the least productive ever.

Aiken, a 35-year-old Raleigh native, is running against Renee Ellmers, a two-term Republican incumbent. A former nurse from Dunn, Ellmers, 50, narrowly won office in 2010 by riding a tea party wave and won her second term handily after the district lines were redrawn to favor Republicans. Over two terms, she has stood with House Republicans in their relentless opposition to the Affordable Care Act and virtually every proposal offered by the White House.

Ellmers also has been prone to political tone-deafness. After supporting a Republican-driven shutdown of the U.S. government, she initially declined to follow others in Congress who deferred their pay in sympathy with federal workers who lost theirs. “I need my paycheck. That’s the bottom line,” she said. Recently she raised eyebrows by saying lawmakers need to bring policy debates “down to a woman’s level.”

Nonetheless, Aiken is running uphill. He’s a gay Democrat in a Republican-leaning district. But Aiken thinks his name recognition may help him win the substantial number of the district’s unaffiliated voters and even some conservatives who regard Ellmers as politically inflexible and not particularly responsive to constituent needs.

Ellmers, who went into office as a political neophyte, hasn’t taken long to assume the tone of an insider. She dismisses Aiken as “an entertainer” and says, “He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.”

What Aiken does know is that he wants to move the nation past the frustration of partisan politics. The broadest sentiment he picks up on the campaign trail, he says, is: “People hate politics. They are sick of it.”

Aiken has sought to bridge partisan differences. He has met with groups across the political spectrum, including tea party groups, as he campaigns across a sprawling district that stretches from western Wake County to Fayetteville and includes nine counties and the Fort Bragg military base.

An upset in this race would be more than a victory for Aiken. It would send a message from voters fed up with a divided, do-nothing Congress.

Ellmers is a part of the problem by being dogmatic and uncompromising. Even more troubling, she does not concede there is a problem. She says the House has passed hundreds of bills only to have them blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate. She blames gridlock on the Senate majority leader.

“Harry Reid is the problem,” she says.

That “not us” attitude is what dooms compromise and the prospect of congressional action. Gridlock and automatic spending cuts under sequestration have hobbled the recovery from the Great Recession. There is a need for members of Congress who will sing a different tune and sometimes a duet with the opposition. It’s time for Clay Aiken.

In other congressional races across the Triangle region, the choice should be for those who will go to Congress to find common ground and support actions beyond opposing President Obama and backing blunt cuts in spending. In the 4th District, we support U.S. Rep. David Price, a longtime Democratic congressman serving the western Triangle. He is committed to improving the economy and generating jobs to help a middle class battered by the Great Recession.

In the 13th District, which includes parts of Raleigh and most of Wake County, we support Democrat BrendaClearyin her challenge to Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding. Cleary, a nurse and the former executive director of the North Carolina Center for Nursing, has lobbied Congress for improvements in health care and better policies for an aging population, two areas where Congress could use her expertise. Holding supports the tired and economically destructive approach of across-the-board cuts in government spending.

In the 7th District, which includes Johnston County, we support the election of Jonathan Barfield Jr., a Democrat and New Hanover County commissioner. A Realtor and assistant pastor of New Beginning Christian Church, Barfield favors raising the minimum wage, lowering interest rates for student loans and creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

In the 6th District, which is centered in Greensboro but now includes portions of Orange and Durham counties, we support Democrat Laura Fjeld, a former general counsel for the UNC system. Fjeld, an Orange County resident, faces daunting odds in the district long held by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, but she has pledged to bring a bipartisan approach to serving the district.