Cary, N.C. — Pop singer Clay Aiken officially announced on Wednesday that he will run for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District.
In a video announcing his candidacy, Aiken referenced his time on "American Idol," saying "for most Americans, there are no golden tickets. At least not the kind you see on TV.
"More families are struggling today than at any time in our history, and here in North Carolina, we've suffered more than our share of pain," Aiken said.
WRAL News first reported Jan. 23 that Aiken, 35, was assembling a political team for a congressional run. The 2nd District seat is now held by Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers.
"I don't think it was a single issue" that got him into the race, he said in an interview Wednesday. "I think it was an environment in politics, especially in Washington over the past three or four years of not getting anything done."
Aiken said in his campaign video that he believes Ellmers went to Washington, D.C., with good intentions, but she has since supported spending cuts that have impacted military families and voted for the government shutdown last fall.
"This is what's wrong with Washington," he said in the video. "That a congresswoman would go and vote against the best interests of North Carolina military families and those who depend on the military to do their jobs. To do it when you know it's wrong is even worse."
In a fundraising email that went out hours after his official announcement, Aiken called Washington "dysfunctional" and said he wants to stand up for area residents and give them a voice on Capitol Hill.
"I'm a Democrat, but I realize that our problems won't be solved by only one party or the other. It's going to require all of us," Aiken said in the email.
In his interview with WRAL News, Aiken said he thinks one person can make a difference in Washington.
"Politics isn't a place you go to get liked, but it is a place you can go to really make a difference," he said. "I think the change that can be made by one person, especially in a race like this, is to show politicians that voters are not interested in extremism on both sides, on either side, and that (voters) pay attention. We see when you're not working together. We see when you're not talking."
The North Carolina Republican Party was hesitant to criticize Aiken Wednesday, saying only in a release that voters "have no clue" on his positions on issues from the Affordable Care Act and government spending to gun control and abortion.
Former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco and Durham attorney Houston Barnes previously announced plans to seek the Democratic nomination in the 2nd District, but Barnes said Wednesday that he will step aside and put his support behind Aiken.
"I have gotten to know Clay, and a friendship has formed. I like him, and I have gained a deep respect and admiration for him," Barnes said in a statement. "At this time, my stepping aside to forgo a damaging Democratic primary is vital to taking this seat back. We must unite to take this seat back from the extremists who continue to hold the middle class hostage."
Ellmers also faces a primary challenge. Conservative talk radio host Frank Roche, of Cary, says she isn't conservative enough to represent the district, which Republican lawmakers redrew in 2011 to be more favorable to GOP candidates.
Still, she already is looking toward November, saying she expects to defeat whoever wins the Democratic primary.
"Regardless of whomever (sic) wins that primary, the voters of our district will have a clear choice between a Congresswoman with a conservative track record of fighting for their families and a liberal who supports the failed Obama Administration policies that have seen family incomes shrink, the destruction of our health care system and a jobless so called recovery," Ellmers said in a statement.
Aiken was the runner-up on "American Idol" in 2003 and later put out six albums and appeared on Broadway and on reality television. His most noted foray into the political arena came two years ago when he spoke out against North Carolina's constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.
"I'm not a politician, and I don't ever want to be one," Aiken said Wednesday. "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. Maybe we can play a small part in igniting that change across the rest of our country."