Hats off to Clay Aiken and his political team. In a few short hours, they took a campaign that could have easily become little more than the butt of late night jokes and made it a contender, at least for the Democratic nomination for Congress in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District. As my friend Perry Woods tweeted, “When you quit giggling, and before you dismiss Clay Aiken running for Congress, U better take a look at this.” 

The introductory video is powerful and Clay nails it. In a single five minute take, Aiken let’s us know he has a story, a message, real world experience, humility and smarts. And that’s in addition to name recognition and a built-in fan base.

I met with Aiken briefly this afternoon. He’s sincere and down to earth. He seems to understand what he is walking into and is undaunted by the task. That may change as the campaign gets underway.

Aiken wants to take on Renee Ellmers but before he gets that chance he’s got to get past a primary with Keith Crisco. That’s far from a sure thing. Crisco is a well-heeled and well-respected businessman who served as Secretary of Commerce under Bev Perdue.  A lot of Democrats believe that Crisco’s profile matches up better with Ellmers. Besides, the primary electorate is older and may identify more with an older, successful businessman than a young, gay crooner.

Today was a good day for Clay Aiken. He made the world take notice of his campaign and forced people to start to take him seriously. Now, he needs to turn the goodwill and kudos he earned today into money and votes.

There will be tougher days to come, though. His celebrity will likely mean he has less room for error. The press and his opponents will be watching closely. Every misstep, no matter how small, will be amplified.

It’s a long haul and campaigns can be brutal. But if he can take the scrutiny, criticism and even ridicule, he can come out of this race a leader of the next generation of North Carolina Democrats regardless of whether he wins or loses.

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