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As part of a larger article titled "Race for Rep. David Price’s Congressional seat draws a crowded field," there is an interview with Clay.

In a bid for Congress, Aiken seeks a different kind of stage




In a bid for Congress, Aiken seeks a different kind of stage


Clay_Headshot-e1649711560152.jpeg“It’s funny to me that I’m still stuck in so many people’s minds sometimes as the 24-year-old from ‘Idol,’” chuckled Clay Aiken.“The more important thing to me that came out of ‘Idol’ was the ability it gave me to talk about issues that were important to me and bring attention to those.” 

Aiken, now 43, may have gained prominence as an “American Idol” fan favorite. But before “Idol,” he worked at the YMCA, where he became interested in children with special needs. These days, Aiken says his life centers on his organization for children with special needs, the National Inclusion Project. The program works with organizations to include children with disabilities in recreational programs, like camps.  

Now, Aiken wants to use his platform for politics.

“I was waiting and expecting someone who would jump in who would have some sort of powerful statewide voice or the proven ability to bring attention to issues, because I don’t think people in this district really realize how much David Price has done over the past 35 years,” Aiken said. 

The source of Aiken’s name recognition differs from that of former U.S. Rep David Price, but he believes he can bring the same benefits to district residents. If elected to represent North Carolina’s 4th District in Congress, Aiken would ensure the district maintains access to infrastructure funds and housing funds, especially as housing prices skyrocket.

He would also reform education funding. Title I, which supports underfunded schools, has “incentivized school districts to create high poverty schools” in order to get more money, he said. 

This is not Aiken’s first run for Congress. He said his commitment to fairer election maps prompted him to run in 2014 against Rep. Rennee Ellmers (R) in North Carolina’s 2nd District. Aiken views the issue of voting rights as urgent, and would vote for both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the more sweeping H.R.1, which would reform voting rights and election administration. 

“We need to accept as much progress as we can make in this area right now, because we can’t really wait anymore,” Aiken said.

Aiken laments how Democrats waited to act on other pressing issues such as climate change, gun violence and police brutality.

“I think Democrats have a tendency, over the past four years, to be a bit superficial when it comes to making progress,” he said. “I’m all for symbolic victories, but symbolic victories don’t do much to save anyone’s lives and protect people.”



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The Most Interesting Democratic Primaries of 2022

The Clay part:


A race to the left in North Carolina: In North Carolina, a House seat is open in a newly redrawn — and heavily Democratic — district. Since the winner of the primary is likely to be the next member of Congress, this wide-open primary is where we’ll see the real competition. The top candidates are playing to their firsts: Democrats could go with Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman elected to public office in the state, or Clay Aiken, the former “American Idol” contestant who has run for Congress once and says he wants to be the South’s first openly gay congressman. The primary is May 17.


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Who Will Be the Successor in NC's Bluest Congressional District?





Who Will Be the Successor in NC's Bluest Congressional District?

North Carolina’s Democratic primary for the Fourth Congressional District seat features a celebrity, a longtime local leader, and an energetic, progressive firebrand.

 APR. 27, 2022

Nida Allam giggles and shows me her phone.

She’s on the “Students4Nida” TikTok page, watching a video set to an Alvin and the Chipmunks-esque cover of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.”

The five-second video uses one of TikTok’s most common formats, where the subject lip syncs to a song and overlays text that sort of matches the theme of the lyrics. In this one, a UNC-Chapel Hill freshman named Sam pairs the lyrics “Sitting on a park bench, thinking to myself” with text that reads “Being a true progressive that supports climate and economic justice.” Then, as chipmunk Taylor sings, “Hey, isn’t this easy,” Allam’s name flashes across the screen.

Among the eight candidates running in the Democratic primary for North Carolina’s 4th  Congressional District, Allam is the only one with a student-led TikTok account, she tells me proudly.

Like New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—whose name has been hashtagged in so many TikToks that, when totaled, videos with #AOC have a cumulative 1.1 billion views—Allam excites young people.

When Representative David Price announced in October that he would retire after more than 30 years in office, Allam emerged as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed replacement with a staunchly progressive platform that includes support for a Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

“I think it’s high time for North Carolina to have a fighter,” Allam told the INDY upon announcing her candidacy in November.

Allam is one of three frontrunners in the congressional race. She’s up against Valerie Foushee, a state senator with over two decades of experience in public office, and Clay Aiken, a former American Idol contestant and activist for children with disabilities with zero experience in elected office.

The newly redrawn 4th district includes all of Durham, Orange, Person, Alamance, and Granville Counties and the northeast corner of Caswell County. As the region is solidly liberal, the primary will most likely decide the general election, though if none of the candidates receive more than 30 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff election on July 26.

Allam and I are sitting in her dining room, which doubles as her campaign office. She opens her laptop to kick off a virtual phone bank and I see Sam from TikTok, this time framed in a box on Zoom. Like Chase, most of the phone bank volunteers are UNC students who seem wildly energetic despite it being exam season.


As an icebreaker, Allam asks participants to propose a name for her baby (she had announced her pregnancy that morning), and after they drop a few suggestions in the chat—Khadija, Lex, Leia—she gives them a script and a list of phone numbers and sets them off on their own.

The next day, the phone bankers joined 100 other UNC students, including basketball star Caleb Love, at a town hall on UNC’s campus. As encouraged, most attendees wore green shirts to celebrate Earth Day and endorse a Green New Deal.

Allam isn’t much older than her student supporters—she’s 28. She was born in Canada to Indian and Pakistani immigrant parents and moved to the Triangle at age five when her father got a job at IBM. (She became a naturalized US citizen in February 2008). She grew up in Wake County, attending public schools, and went on to get a degree in sustainable materials and technology from NC State.

In 2015, during Allam’s last year of college, three of her best friends—Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Yusor’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha—were murdered in their apartment in Chapel Hill. Barakat was a student at UNC’s School of Dentistry; Yusor and Razan were Allam’s classmates at NC State.

“The week they passed away, we were all supposed to go get our ears pierced together,” Allam says. “We were still kids.”

While many, including Allam, viewed the triple-homicide as a hate crime—all three victims were Muslim—federal authorities ultimately claimed they could not find sufficient evidence to categorize it as such and wrote the shooting off as a violent reaction to a parking dispute.

“That’s what really pushed me to realize that we need to start stepping up and speaking up, not just for the Muslim community, but for all communities that haven’t had advocates for them in leadership spaces,” Allam says.

She started a club called NC State for Bernie while she was finishing school, and after graduating, landed a job as a political director for Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. In 2017, she was elected third vice chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party—the first Muslim American elected to the party’s executive council—and went on to make history again three years later when she was elected to the Durham County Board of Commissioners, becoming the first Muslim woman elected to public office in North Carolina.

Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero, who has worked alongside Allam for several years and recently endorsed her congressional run, says that Allam is unparalleled in her ability to identify and draw attention to the issues of young people and underrepresented communities. Specifically, she emphasizes Allam’s work in fighting for a living wage, drumming up support for food pantries during the COVID-19 pandemic, and adding an Immigrant & Refugee Affairs Coordinator position to the county office.

“She has a lot of connections into communities that, in a lot of ways, people don’t even know they exist,” says Caballero. “How do you serve communities like that if you don’t even know they’re around?”

In addition to Caballero, Allam has received endorsements from other local leaders, notable elected officials like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, and more than 20 organizations, including the Durham People’s Alliance and Communication Workers of America.

Her platform for the upcoming election builds on the issues she’s championed during her years in office, including comprehensive healthcare coverage, a green energy economy, reproductive rights, and a $23 minimum wage.

“I just keep reminding myself, ‘Who am I doing this for?’” Allam says. “This isn’t just about me getting a title. This is about all the people’s faces that I’m going to bring with me.”

                                                                                                 * * *          

Valerie Foushee’s hands are at “10 and 2” on the steering wheel, eyes fixed on the road.

“We’re gonna make sure we don’t make any sudden movements,” she says, preparing to switch lanes.

It’s the third time she’s said this while we’ve been in the car. She drives the same way she speaks: assertively, and with measure.

We’re heading to the home of an officer who works at local non-profit El Centro Hispano (and who asked not to be named, so we’re calling her Rosa). Rosa has offered to give Foushee a tour of neighborhoods in southeast Durham, particularly those with new housing developments, to help deepen Foushee’s understanding of the area’s constituency.

As far as the 4th district goes, Foushee is most knowledgeable of Orange County. She grew up in Chapel Hill during the 1960s as the oldest of six children and the child of teen parents and attended segregated schools until sixth grade. She graduated from Chapel Hill High School as class president and studied at UNC-Chapel Hill, ultimately leaving college after two years; attending school while working multiple jobs was “too much at the time,” she says. Years later, at age 50, Foushee returned to the university to complete degrees in political science and Afro and African-American studies.

Between her stints at UNC, Foushee worked for the Chapel Hill Police Department and volunteered at her children’s elementary school; for a period of time, she would work 12-hour overnight shifts as a desk officer in the jail, get off at 7 a.m., and head straight to the school to help out in classrooms. There, she witnessed first-hand the achievement gap between majority and minority students, motivating her to run for school board. She later became the first African American woman elected to the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, then joined the North Carolina General Assembly, serving in the House and, most recently, the Senate.

Two of Foushee’s colleagues, state senators Natalie Murdock and Mike Woodard, spoke to me at length about Foushee’s achievements in office. Murdock, who returned my call despite being sick because “I’d do anything for Senator Foushee,” highlighted Foushee’s role as a champion of education and her work in passing legislation that banned child marriage, increased access to healthcare, and outlawed race-based discrimination against natural hair.

“I’ll brag on her because she won’t do it herself,” Murdock says.

Woodard emphasized Foushee’s environmental record—she’s worked on bills related to water quality, sustainable energy, and cleaning up coal ash—and complimented her connection to her constituents.

“Her knowledge of her district is among the best of any colleague I’ve worked with,” Woodard says. “She just knows her community so well.”

In addition to Murdock and Woodard, Foushee has been endorsed by a number of other state senators plus US Representative G.K. Butterfield, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

When Foushee and I arrive at Rosa’s house, we hop into a sedan and set off on an hour-long crawl around a dozen surrounding neighborhoods. As we circle through cul-de-sacs and parking lots, Foushee asks Rosa the same two questions again and again: who lives here? And what are their most pressing needs?

The majority of people down this road have children, so they care a lot about education, Rosa says, cruising through one development.

“Where are the activities?” Foushee asks, noting that the neighborhood doesn’t have a park. “Where can the children go for passive recreation?”

There are plans to build a playground, Rosa says, but the plot of land is right next to a thicket of high voltage power towers, so parents are worried about radiation. Foushee takes a mental note.

When we pass a house with a “Valerie Foushee for Congress” sign in the front yard, Foushee shrieks with delight.

Back at Foushee’s campaign office near downtown Durham, we sit down for a more formal interview and I ask her one question: “Tell me about your upbringing,” which she answers—and then, unprompted, goes on to answer nearly every other question on my list. She lays out her qualifications, discusses how her upbringing shaped her values, and walks me through her priorities if elected to Congress—reforming the criminal justice system, enhancing equity in education, implementing affordable healthcare, combating environmental racism—in a concise 20 minutes.

Foushee has clearly done this many times before. But when I ask the one question that she didn’t preemptively address, her disposition starts to shift.

                                                                                                 * * *          

After we order sweet tea, I ask Clay Aiken if he chose to meet me at The Blue Note Grill because of the symbolism of the restaurant’s name: he’s a Democratic candidate (“blue”) and a famous singer (“note”) who I’m going to “grill.”

Unfortunately, he’s not that clever, he says: he’d just spoken to the Friends of Durham PAC in the adjoining event room, so lunching here made sense. He’d also been at Blue Note the previous night to sing at an open mic—the only time he’s performed publicly in the past decade, aside from starring in a 2019 stage production of Grease (“obviously, I played Sandy”).

Aiken was born in Raleigh in 1978. For the first five years of his life, he spent most of his time at his grandparents’ house in Bahama, where he and his mother camped out to hide from his abusive alcoholic father. When his mother remarried, they moved back to Raleigh.

His family has lived in North Carolina for at least 10 generations, and most of his relatives are Republicans. But during the 1992 presidential election, Aiken grew interested in the values Democrats hold and invited Rep. David Price to speak to his eighth-grade class. He was immediately sold.

“I gravitated towards the group that spoke up for the underdog,” Aiken says. “Democrats were the empathetic party who were fighting for the needs of others.”

While pursuing a degree in special education at UNC-Charlotte, Aiken worked as a caregiver for an autistic boy named Mike. During his last year of college, Aiken competed on American Idol, finishing in second place; after that, he returned to Charlotte to complete his degree and co-found the National Inclusion Project—a nonprofit committed to creating programs that allow disabled children to participate in activities with their non-disabled peers—with Mike’s mother, Diane Bubel.

Bubel says Aiken’s dedication to the disabled community exemplifies how he would be a strong representative in office.

“As small, tired minority community members, we needed a champion,” Bubel says. “That’s who he’s been for us. And that’s the kind of representative he’s going to be for District 4.”

In the years following Idol, Aiken also made music and traveled as a UNICEF ambassador. He largely retired from the music industry in 2014, when he decided to run for the US House in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, losing the election to Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers. (After losing her seat in the 2016 primary, Ellmers is running for Congress again this year, in the 13th Congressional District).

Aiken has received substantial criticism online from people who claim that unlike Allam and Foushee, who live in Durham and Orange Counties, Aiken doesn’t live in the 4th district. In a written statement, Aiken’s campaign clarified that though the redrawn congressional map placed the district line 900 yards from his house, Aiken has lived in the 4th district for the majority of his life and plans to relocate before the new map takes effect.

After briefing me on his background, Aiken takes a bite of baked beans and jumps into his priorities for the 4th district: transportation, affordable housing, and education are the big three.

Despite his lack of experience in office, he seems informed on both the region’s pressing needs and political history, constantly referencing former elections and bits of legislation. He speaks at length about addressing the unintended consequences of Title 1, a program that was “wonderful on paper” but has “incentivized certain school districts to create high poverty schools.”

When I ask Aiken about LGBTQ rights, mentioning that this seems to be a central part of his platform—if elected, he would be the first gay man from the South to join Congress—he shakes his head.

“I haven’t focused on it simply because I don’t want people to think that that’s why I’m running,” Aiken tells me. “And gosh, it’s a little sad that you did.”

It’s an important issue, he adds, but he’s tired of being seen as a single-issue candidate. At county party meetings, when others have announced that they would be the first this or the first that, he says he comes close to labeling himself as “the first person over six feet who lives on my street to be elected to Congress.”

What sets him apart is not his identity as a gay man, he says; rather, it’s his desire and ability to combat increasing political polarization by collaborating with representatives across the aisle. Aiken describes his opponents as more focused on “activism than action.”

“We need action and attention and intention to actually get some shit done,” he says.

Aiken loves expletives—over the course of our two-hour meal, he curses dozens of times, always dropping his voice to a low whisper but mouthing the words dramatically. The words he won’t say are “Madison Cawthorn” and “Mark Robinson,” whom he calls “he who shall not be named” and “you know who.” He likes to punctuate statements by saying, “and you can quote me on that”—for instance, he drops the phrase after stating that Allam is not a terrorist and “anyone who says she is can kiss both cheeks of my ass.”

Most of all, for a celebrity, Aiken is exceedingly normal; when our server asks for a picture with him, for a moment I forget why she would want one. One of my earliest memories is watching Aiken climb out of a helicopter to throw the first pitch at a Bull’s game in 2003, and it’s hard to believe that this is the same guy.

But his ability to pass as an average Joe doesn’t negate the fact that, if it weren’t for name recognition, his lack of experience would’ve likely quashed his ability to raise money and secure votes.

Instead of running in this election, I ask, did he consider using his notoriety to throw support behind a different, more qualified candidate?

He cackles, tells me I’ve been on Twitter too much, then says, “No,” reminding me that he’s the only candidate who’s won a Democratic congressional primary before.

And, he says, his fame is actually what will help him accomplish things with the opposing party.

“Are Republicans interested in talking to me about policies? Not first, of course; they want to talk about American Idol. They want to take a picture for their daughter or their mother,” Aiken says. “But it’s a way to get people to sit down and talk to you.”

                                                                                                 * * *          

After wrapping up the phone bank, Allam and I head over to a meet-and-greet in Durham City Council member Jillian Johnson’s front yard, where Allam mingles with some 25 people as they sip cans of La Croix and snack on finger foods from Costco.

This cohort of supporters is significantly older than the group I saw on Zoom, with most attendees looking to be in their 40s or 50s. As noted in a recent News & Observer article, it’s important that Allam focuses as much on older voters as she does on young ones; if the primary leads to a runoff in July, many college students won’t be in town to cast a ballot.

At the meet-and-greet, everybody seems to be talking about the same thing. In hushed tones, they ask me if I’ve heard about the massive amount of money that the pro-Israel group AIPAC recently donated to Foushee’s campaign.

Many interpret the contribution as an attempt to prevent Allam, who has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, from being elected, and view it as extremely concerning given AIPAC’s endorsement last month of 37 Republicans who believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Johnson says that up until recently, she saw Foushee as a strong second choice. But since the contribution from AIPAC, which she describes as a “right-wing fear mongering organization,” she no longer holds this belief.

“Raising money from the people you are asking to represent is a way of staying accountable to those individuals,” Johnson says. “So raising half of your money from a single source, it doesn’t show that you have the ability to appeal to and represent a broad group of people.”

Attendees also discuss the Islamophobic polls that have been circulating online and conducted through phone calls, one of which asks participants to respond to a statement that describes Allam admiring a woman who “showed support for a terrorist who was convicted of bombing a supermarket.”

Allam tells me that she’s received a number of death threats during her campaign—probably many more than she’s aware of, as there’s an inbox that only her campaign manager can access and her husband makes a point to sift through their snail mail before Allam can see it.

“These polls, they’re just words, but unfortunately, we know from this district having one of the most heinous Islamophobic attacks in recent history, people act on it,” Allam says.

There are rumors that Foushee or her allies are responsible for the polls. In a written statement to the INDY, Foushee’s campaign refuted these allegations.

“They are not polls from our campaign and we have no knowledge of where they are coming from or who is paying for them,” the statement reads. “That said, if we saw an ad on any platform that used that kind of rhetoric or language, we would denounce it and call for it to be taken down.”'

                                                                                                 * * *          

According to FEC reports, Aiken has raised the least amount of money of the three frontrunners, with $444,389 in pocket as of April 1. Foushee, with deep roots and years of public service in the district, has raised $480,540, the second most. And Allam has raised the most money so far, $657,127.

While Foushee’s large individual donations are the most localized of the three—people associated with Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill are two of her top contributors—more than half of her quarterly funding came in the form of bundled local and non-local individual contributions from AIPAC, which led to a Twitter firestorm from local progressives and caused the Progressive Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party to pull its endorsement.

In addition to AIPAC’s bundle of donations, a super PAC called Protect Our Future recently spent more than $800,000 on advertising for Foushee. Protect Our Future is backed primarily by Sam Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire. The PAC has also spent roughly $11 million in support of four other Democratic House candidates, including Ohio Rep. Shontel Brown and Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath in their bids for reelection.

When I ask Foushee why she hasn’t denounced the bundled contributions from AIPAC and outside spending by Protect Our Future, she stiffens in her seat. Foushee is not a woman who likes any sudden movements, and though the question didn’t seem to catch her off guard, it’s also not one she has much experience answering.

She thanks me for giving her an opportunity to share her side of the story, then says she wishes money was not so crucial to running campaigns.

“I’ve never had to raise funds to this extent,” Foushee says, later adding that, “It is a thing that Black women in particular are not very successful in raising capital.”

She doesn’t comment on the support from the crypto billionaire—she just learned about it a few hours ago, she says. Regarding AIPAC, Foushee says the organization supports her because of her position on Israel, which is fairly mainstream: she believes we should be working toward a two-state solution, but also that Israel should have the ability to defend itself.

“Israel has been an ally to this country for more than 70 years with keeping peace in that area, the most volatile area in the world,” Foushee says.

She feels like a scapegoat—a number of other state Democrats have accepted donations from AIPAC, including state Sen. Jeff Jackson and Reps. Deborah Ross and Alma Adams—and she’s also frustrated that the contribution is overshadowing her lifelong commitment to progressivism.

“It’s very painful to be painted as something I’m not,” she says. “I was fighting for a progressive Congress before those folks on Twitter knew how to spell ‘progressive.’”

After this line, Foushee steps out of the room to gather herself. When she comes back, there are tears in her eyes.

“They may be successful in having me defeated in this election,” she says. “But they won’t stop me from serving.”



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Clay Aiken Wins Compensation Fight With Broadway Christmas Show



Clay Aiken Wins Compensation Fight With Broadway Christmas Show

April 27, 2022, 1:37 PM

The production company behind a Broadway Christmas show featuring former American Idol contestants owes $60,000 to singer Clay Aiken and his team, a Manhattan federal judge said, confirming an arbitration award favoring the Actors’ Equity Association labor union.

RC Christmas LLC admitted in arbitration that it breached agreements with Aiken and the union, and it made no effort to contest the arbitration award in court, Judge John P. Cronan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York said. Cronan entered a judgment of $80,301 against RC Christmas, which includes $60,000 owed to Aiken’s team, an additional $15,348 to the union, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

The ruling is fallout from “Ruben and Clay’s Christmas Show,” a 2018 limited-run Broadway production reuniting former American Idol contestants Aiken and Ruben Studdard. The union accused the show’s producer, RC Christmas, of failing to pay amounts owed under a collective bargaining agreement and individual employment contracts, including salary payments, 401(k) contributions, commissions, and cash receipts.

In particular, the union accuses RC Christmas of failing to pay Aiken’s weekly fee—$25,000 for him and $5,000 for his agent—for two weeks of the production.

Aiken and Studdard competed on the second season of American Idol. Studdard was crowned the franchise’s first male winner in May 2003.

Cohen, Weiss and Simon represents the union. RC Christmas didn’t file an appearance in the case.

The case is Actors’ Equity Ass’n v. RC Christmas LLC, 2022 BL 143749, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:21-cv-00937, 4/26/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bloomberglaw.com



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Why Big Money Is Pouring Into A Safe Democratic Seat In North Carolina




Why Big Money Is Pouring Into A Safe Democratic Seat In North Carolina

National groups’ efforts to buoy Valerie Foushee – and sink Nida Allam – are angering local progressives.

North Carolina state Sen. Valerie Foushee, left, activist Clay Aiken and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam are vying for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina's 4th Congressional District, a liberal bastion.


North Carolina state Sen. Valerie Foushee, left, activist Clay Aiken and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam are vying for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina's 4th Congressional District, a liberal bastion.


Up until a few weeks ago, it looked like Nida Allam was on track to make history.

The Durham County commissioner is running to the left in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, and it looked like she was set to outpace her better-known and more experienced rivals.

If elected, the 28-year-old Allam, an observant Muslim, would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and its first Pakistani-American member.

Thanks in part to her status as a dyed-in-the-wool progressive who got her start in politics working for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential race, Allam announced another banner fundraising quarter on April 1 that put her well ahead of her top two competitors, state Sen. Valerie Foushee and “American Idol” singer-turned-activist Clay Aiken. An April 8 endorsement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) added to Allam’s momentum.

Then the dam burst. Foushee picked up a flood of influential endorsements, donations and super PAC investments that have upended the dynamics of the race in a solid Democratic district where the May 17 primary is the only contest that matters.


The influx of big national money into the race for an open progressive seat that includes Durham and Chapel Hill speaks as much to fears of Allam’s ascent as it does to Foushee’s strengths.


“National groups are pouring money into North Carolina for the sole purpose of stopping a new Squad member from going to D.C.”

- Morgan Jackson, Democratic strategist

Moderate and progressive Democrats watching the contest agree that it is a clear sign of establishment forces striking back against the left’s recent gains in Congress ― and a possible preview of the lopsided internecine battles still to come this election cycle.

“National groups are pouring money into North Carolina for the sole purpose of stopping a new Squad member from going to D.C.,” said Morgan Jackson, referring to the progressive six-person “Squad” in Congress that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.). Jackson, a Raleigh-based Democratic strategist, is supporting Foushee but isn’t working with anyone in the race.

The drumbeat of good news for Foushee has picked up steadily in the past two weeks. The deep-pocketed EMILY’s List, which supports female candidates who back abortion rights, endorsed Foushee on April 11; the Congressional Black Caucus PAC lent her its blessing two days later.

When Foushee revealed her first-quarter fundraising on April 15, she disclosed that the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the famously influential pro-Israel lobby, had bundled more than half of her $320,000 haul.


Thus far, Foushee herself has lacked the funding to spend more than a negligible amount on TV herself. But AIPAC’s new super PAC, United Democracy Project, has purchased $720,000 in airtime for TV ads promoting Foushee’s personal story and work.

President Joe Biden speaks at an event in North Carolina in April. The state's 4th Congressional District is likely the most liberal House seat in the state.


President Joe Biden speaks at an event in North Carolina in April. The state's 4th Congressional District is likely the most liberal House seat in the state.


Last week, Protect Our Future, a super PAC funded by a cryptocurrency billionaire who claims to be motivated by an interest in improving the country’s pandemic preparedness, also began spending heavily on Foushee’s behalf. The group has spent more than $830,000 bolstering her, with the vast majority of it on television.

Since there has been no public polling in the race, it’s difficult to know what kind of effect the money has had so far. Early voting begins Thursday.

In the near term, news of AIPAC’s support for Foushee prompted a backlash from the state Democratic Party’s progressive caucus. The caucus, led by Ryan Jenkins, had given its stamp of approval to five candidates in the race, including Allam and Aiken, but withdrew its blessing for Foushee on Sunday. In its statement announcing the decision, the group cited AIPAC’s endorsement of 109 out of the 134 Republican members of Congress who objected to the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.

“No American candidate should be accepting funds from an organization that provides financial support for those seeking to destroy our democracy,” the caucus wrote.

But for a candidate who was struggling to raise money and campaigning relatively quietly ― Foushee skipped three candidate forums attended by Allam and Aiken ― the resources have been a game changer.

“Valerie Foushee is clearly in the driver’s seat in this primary and appears to be headed towards a strong victory,” Jackson said.

House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the state Democratic Party have notably stayed out of the race.

The sudden convergence of big money behind Foushee in a district that is not competitive in the general election has nonetheless confirmed progressives’ suspicions that influential forces in Washington are involved because of their fear of Allam.


“These kinds of actions are not just hurting progressives. They’re hurting Democrats, period.”

- Ryan Jenkins, progressive caucus, North Carolina Democratic Party

“It’s definitely, ‘We don’t want more progressives; we don’t want another member of the Squad fucking with our establishment politics,’” said Jenkins, a 4th District resident. “The Squad really turned D.C. upside down a bit.”


Although Allam is not exactly a harsh critic of the party ― she previously served as third vice chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party ― she hails from a wing of the party that is at times in open conflict with party leaders. She is a supporter of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and she’s an active member of the Black Lives Matter movement. It would not be a stretch to envision her joining the Squad if she’s elected.

And unlike Foushee, Allam is a critic of the Israeli government whose rhetoric on the topic has occasionally ruffled even other progressives’ feathers. She has apologized for a 2018 tweet about Israeli influence in U.S. politics that some Jewish leaders saw as antisemitic.

Although much of the money for Foushee is coming from outside the state, Jackson believes that the election of a potential Squad member, even in a safely Democratic district, is a source of concern for many North Carolina Democrats.

“The last thing we need in North Carolina is a Squad member that every Democrat in the state gets asked every day about their comments,” Jackson said.

The involvement of EMILY’s List, with its close ties to official Democratic Party organs, has been especially rankling for progressives, however.

Allam has been open about receiving an abortion to terminate an ectopic pregnancy and serves on the board of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. (She announced last week that she is now in the second trimester of a healthy pregnancy.)

“Nida is a tribune of women’s health,” said Jenkins, who emphasized that he is not revealing the candidate for whom he plans to vote.

State Sen. Don Davis and former state Sen. Erica Smith are competing for the Democratic nod in North Carolina's 1st Congressional District. Despite some of Davis' votes against abortion rights, EMILY's List has stayed out of the race.


State Sen. Don Davis and former state Sen. Erica Smith are competing for the Democratic nod in North Carolina's 1st Congressional District. Despite some of Davis' votes against abortion rights, EMILY's List has stayed out of the race.


He and other progressives wonder why EMILY’s List chose to jump into the 4th District race ― which has two women who support abortion rights ― and not the one in the neighboring 1st District, where the policy stakes appear to be clearer.

“If the priority is making sure pro-choice people are elected to Congress, the 1st District should have been a higher priority than the 4th District, where there are two good options,” said Braxton Brewington, a Democratic strategist from North Carolina who is supporting former state Sen. Erica Smith’s bid in the 1st District.

The 1st District is a rural seat in the northeastern part of the state, where Smith, who is backed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is running against state Sen. Don Davis, a conservative Democrat who has cast votes for Republican bills designed to undermine abortion rights. (Davis says he is committed to protecting the fundamental right to an abortion.)

“I have no idea why they’re not supporting Erica Smith. She’s so much of a better candidate than Don Davis,” said a female progressive activist in North Carolina who requested anonymity for professional reasons.

“It says that they don’t want to wade in with something that is going to piss the [establishment] off and that they don’t care if they throw their belief in a woman’s right to choose under the bus,” she added.

Davis is also backed by AIPAC. The pro-Israel group’s super PAC has spent more than $325,000 in support of his bid.

Moderate Democrats “have their beliefs, and we have ours, but these kinds of actions are not just hurting progressives,” Jenkins said, referring to the influx of outside cash. “They’re hurting Democrats, period.”


“If the priority is making sure pro-choice people are elected to Congress, the 1st District should have been a higher priority than the 4th District, where there are two good options.”

- Braxton Brewington, Democratic strategist

EMILY’s List rejected the idea that its approaches in the two races should be looked at in tandem and instead provided statements about the decision in each race.

In the 4th District, EMILY’s List spokesperson Benjamin Ray said, the organization simply believes Foushee is better positioned than Allam to defeat Aiken.

“North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District is a deep-blue seat, and a Democratic pro-choice woman must defeat the male front-runner to become the nominee,” he said. “Valerie Foushee stands the best chance of doing that with our support and resources.”

Aiken actually trails Allam and Foushee in overall fundraising. But Ray said they were categorizing him as the front-runner based on his high level of name recognition and his previous run for Congress in 2014.

Regarding North Carolina’s 1st District, Ray declined to go into detail about EMILY’s List’s decision-making process but suggested that an endorsement is still possible.

“We endorse races on a case-by-case basis and are frequently engaged with candidates and their campaigns prior to making endorsement decisions, as we are here,” he said.

One possible consideration for EMILY’s List is that the 1st District was redrawn in March to be slightly less Democratic-leaning, suggesting it might be competitive in the general election in November and require a longer-term investment from the group than the safely Democratic 4th Congressional District.

Smith, who dropped out of the U.S. Senate race to run for Congress, also has some baggage that could hurt her against a Republican.

Nida Allam speaks at a Women's March rally in Durham, North Carolina. She has spoken about undergoing an abortion for health reasons and is on the board of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.


Nida Allam speaks at a Women's March rally in Durham, North Carolina. She has spoken about undergoing an abortion for health reasons and is on the board of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.


Smith, a former public school teacher, and some of her former colleagues are being sued by a former member of a high school girls’ volleyball team that she coached. The plaintiff has accused Smith of negligence for being present on a school bus in 2013 when the player was sexually assaulted by teammates.

Smith’s campaign insists that she was unaware that the assault was taking place and did not neglect her responsibilities. One court dismissed the lawsuit against her in 2019.

“Erica’s involvement in this incident is peripheral,” the Smith campaign said in a statement. “If for any reason [the lawsuit] were to come before a court again, we’re confident that it would again be dismissed.”

In North Carolina’s 4th District, there are also plausible reasons for EMILY’s List to see Foushee, 65, as more qualified for elevation to Congress than Allam, 28. Foushee has been an elected official for more than a decade, rising to lead the state Senate Democratic caucus.


“We endorse races on a case-by-case basis and are frequently engaged with candidates and their campaigns prior to making endorsement decisions, as we are here.”

- Benjamin Ray, EMILY's List

She is also a Black candidate running in a district where Black voters tend to make up a large share of the Democratic primary electorate.

“In Valerie’s case, you’ve got somebody who’s been an incredible leader in the state Senate, who’s been a trailblazer for African American women,” Jackson said.

But the sight of EMILY’s List making common cause with AIPAC has been enough to turn off even some of the group’s onetime allies.

A second progressive activist in North Carolina told HuffPost that after AIPAC’s support for Foushee came to light, she wrote to EMILY’s List to complain about their endorsement of Foushee. This year, the progressive activist plans to send the money she would typically give EMILY’s List to Erica Smith’s campaign.

“They’re not vetting their candidates very well,” said the activist, who requested anonymity for professional reasons. “A candidate comes as a whole package. She may be fine in terms of a woman’s right to choose, but every other candidate is too.”

Other North Carolina progressives shrugged at the EMILY’s List endorsement of Foushee precisely because they see the group as part of a party establishment that thwarts progressives. Dave Nelson, a resident of North Carolina’s 1st District who preceded Jenkins as chair of the state party’s progressive caucus, is one of them.

“I see them as a valuable arm of the mainstream Democratic Party,” said Nelson, who is supporting Smith in North Carolina’s 1st District. “Do they even present themselves as progressive?”



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Candidate Questionnaire: Clay Aiken, US House, District 4




Candidate Questionnaire: Clay Aiken, US House, District 4

Name as it appears on the ballot: Clay Aiken

Age: 43

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign website: https://www.clayaiken.com/ 

Occupation & employer:  Musician, disabilities advocate, and chairman of National Inclusion Project

Years lived in North Carolina: 43

1. What are your primary concerns for the State of North Carolina?

For most of my life, North Carolina has been known as a successful and progressive outlier in the South. From our well-funded, consolidated higher education institutions to our well planned infrastructure to the proactive focus we made to educate and recruit a 21st century workforce, North Carolina has always been known for forward-thinking leaders, like Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt; visionaries, like Bill Friday and Floyd McKissick; and trailblazers, like John Hope Franklin and Eva Clayton.

Over the past twelve years, however, our reputation has taken a hit, to say the least. It began with attacks on North Carolinians right to basic healthcare — a policy debate that reasonable people can disagree on, but that has continued to harm thousands of North Carolinians every year. Then it progressed to laws intended to relegate gay and lesbian North Carolinians to second-class citizen status by denying basic protections and freedoms. Our state's reputation has continued to deteriorate through chronic and unconstitutional underfunding of our schools; nonsensical, transphobic laws intended to codify hatred and aggressive voter suppression and gerrymandering tactics that seek to disenfranchise voters and simultaneously dilute North Carolinians' faith in democracy. Meanwhile, the most prominent names and faces in NC politics these days are apples fallen so far from the trees of Terry Sanford, Jim Hunt, and Roy Cooper that they have left much of America with a rotten impression of who we truly are as North Carolinians.

There are many policy areas where I have deep concerns for the Triangle, for North Carolina, and for our country. I address many of them both in this questionnaire and throughout my campaign. But, as a candidate for federal office and one who has for almost 20 years been a visible and proud son of North Carolina, when I think of a "primary concern for the State of North Carolina," I think of how tired I am of having NC be represented on a national political stage by xenophobes and homophobes (whose names don't deserve to be repeated). It's not who we are. We were the first state in the South to elect a Black woman to Congress, in 1992. We'll be the first state in the South to elect a Black woman to the Senate this year. And I'm excited to show our Lt. Governor exactly "what purpose" we serve by being the first state in the South to elect an openly LGBT member to Congress this year also. #NCProud


2. What in your background qualifies you to represent the people of this state effectively? What would you cite as your biggest career accomplishments?

After Idol, I realized that the platform I had could be used to bring attention to the needs of those who couldn’t always fight for themselves. Prior to Idol I worked in NC schools as a special educator and worked a second job caring for children with disabilities outside of the classroom setting. I also worked as a supervisor of summer camps and afterschool programs with the YMCA of the Triangle. Most of my students who had developmental disabilities were unable, in those years, to attend programs like Y camps, because of a lack of support for them in those settings. After I finished Idol, I discovered that the platform I had gained from the show gave me the opportunity to bring attention and awareness to issues that weren't being addressed.

So I used that attention and spotlight to start the National Inclusion Project, an organization that trains and assists youth programs in making their environments and activities accessible for children with disabilities. Over the past 19 years, our work has provided training, resources, curriculum and accreditation to youth recreational programs all across the country. We've helped make extracurricular activities inclusive for thousands of children with disabilities in three dozen states. In addition to the success of our inclusive recreation efforts, which I would consider my proudest career accomplishment, I served for a decade as UNICEF's National Ambassador, working on and helping to build successful education and child protection programs for UNICEF in Indonesia, Uganda, Afghanistan, Kenya, and Somalia.

Congressman Price’s 35 year incumbency has earned him enormous influence, which our area has benefited greatly from. His level of influence is one that almost no first term member could hope to have.

Through my work, I've shown proven success in using my national platform to get people to pay attention to important issues. This is the same spotlight that I will bring to the needs of the 4th district. We don’t have time to wait 30-plus years for our next member of Congress to accrue the type of seniority Congressman Price has had. We need it now. Shining a light on the needs of our community — during a period when we are growing faster than any other place in America — is something I'm able to do in a way that no other candidate — no other first term member, in fact — can.

3. If elected, what three policies would you prioritize and how would you work across the aisle to enact those initiatives?

Many issues facing Congress have become so politically charged that attempts to work across the aisle are often in vain. Some are still not. Education and access to equitable, high quality education should be an area where bipartisan agreement can be reached.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides increased funding for schools with greater than 35% of students qualifying as low income — certainly a worthy program. In school districts like Durham Public Schools or Granville County Schools, where the system's student population is largely high poverty, these funds provide value. However, in other school districts with a lower overall percentage of low-income families, Title I has often incentivized school systems to pack low-income students into one or two high-poverty, underperforming schools in order to access this extra funding. This takes away from the school districts and the students that need this help the most. Reauthorizing Title I and closing this loophole would be a priority for me.

Affordable housing is also an area where bipartisan agreement should be possible, since both Democratic and Republican districts alike are facing dramatically rising housing costs. Federal programs like the Capital Magnet Fund, which provides grants and subsidies to incentivize the development of affordable housing should be targeted to the areas most in need — areas, like ours, where housing prices have risen by the highest percentages year-over-year.

And for those more politically polarized issues, Democrats have often succeeded most at drawing Republican support when we have illustrated to Republicans how the laws they pass or defend can be used against them as well. In the area of voting rights, which is a high priority for me, the GOP defense of gerrymandering remained full-throated until Democrats in states like NY began to gerrymander in favor of Democrats as aggressively as Republicans in states like ours had skewed our maps. Similar emphasis should be placed on how attempts to restrict Democratic voters' access to voting might be used to make it more difficult for Republicans in other states. If common sense and fairness can't prevail, more tangibly illustrating the perils of destroying our democracy might.

5. What factors are fueling the country’s growing political polarization and how will you work to mend it?

At this point, it’s difficult to say exactly what is fueling the growing political polarization. Each side has some event in the past they can point to to blame the other for the rising tensions. I think in order to work together moving forward, we have to want to. I know that sounds a bit simplified, but I believe it's the key, and I don't believe there's adequate desire or motivation from our current political leaders to work together. It's not difficult to get along if we choose to.  We have to want to find areas where we can work together. The people of Durham and the Triangle have known me for twenty years now. I have a track record of not seeking to court controversy or stir division. In fact, I've made an effort throughout my time in the public eye to befriend those who I disagree with and show respect to those I challenge. As a member of Congress, I’m eager to turn down the volume, lower the temperature, and most importantly,  work with those who I don’t agree with on everything, put those disagreements aside, and find areas for agreement and for progress for the good of NC.

6. With rent, property taxes, and home sale prices all rising, what, if anything, should the federal government do to address this growing affordability crisis?

We should increase the Capital Magnet Fund to leverage federal money to boost availability of affordable housing, and target it to areas like the Triangle where folks are being priced out of their homes.

The federal funds set aside to assist areas in need, like ours, is limited and is often jockeyed for by 435 members, each with their own district to attend to. The 4th district — Durham, especially — has a unique and urgent need for federal funds that incentivize the development of affordable housing. I have the ability to bring the attention necessary to our district's needs so that Durham and the 4th district don't get lost and forgotten amongst the 435.

I believe funding for the rapid development of affordable housing should be targeted to areas where rapid growth is quickly pricing folks out of their homes — areas with median home price or median rent increases that are higher year-over-year, like the Triangle, should be prioritized. While we're doing that, we should dramatically increase the amount of funding available for the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

7. What specific policies or programs do you endorse or would pursue to combat inflation?

Whipping inflation will take far more than one or two actions by the federal government. The measures often touted as most immediately effective in curbing rising prices — improving supply chains, raising interest rates, releasing strategic oil reserves — have seen action from the current administration. Each has had some, but not enough, effect. Congress must continue to seek ways to cut away at rising prices using economic and trade action. For example, removing the Trump tariffs on raw materials, such as steel, aluminum, and rubber, would allow American manufacturers and builders faster and cheaper access to the supplies they need to build products in the US, further reducing strain on the supply chain. Beyond just simple trade measures, Congress should take a larger, holistic approach to how our economy — and by extension, inflation — is affected by areas of policy outside of traditional commerce. A large driver of rapid inflation as the country emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic has been lack of supply due to lack of adequate workforce. As demand outpaces our ability to produce, manufacture, or serve, prices go up. Increasing the number of workers in the job market would result in more productivity, driving inflation down. Democrats should begin to lean on this argument as we push for immigration reform. Increasing the numbers of immigrants admitted into the US would have a marked effect on slowing inflation.

While an increase in the number of immigrants won’t solve inflation alone, the problem is too great to be solved with a magic pill. We must continue to look for innovative ways to rescue the economy that also align with the values we espouse as Americans.

8. The U.S. Supreme Court may issue a ruling this summer that guts, or even overturns, Roe v. Wade. What must Congress do to protect abortion rights if that happens?

Congress should not be reactionary and wait for this to occur. It should immediately codify the tenets of Planned Parenthood v Casey into law and protect this fundamental constitutional right.

We've had 30 years now to codify the tenets of Planned Parenthood v Casey into law — during which time there have been 3 congresses when Democrats have had full control of both the presidency and both chambers. There is little rational explanation for why a woman's right to have control over her own body needs to be specifically written into law, but it must be. Congress should act now to codify this into law before any decision is handed down this summer. However, if they do not and the Court overturns the precedent, we cannot wait to respond. Current administrative policies within executive branches, like the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, should be changed immediately to allow doctors on military bases and in VA hospital facilities to perform abortions, and the administration should leverage the federal enclave status of every eligible federal property to allow all women access to those services on federal properties around the country where state laws do not apply. All creative and legal options like these must remain on the table and no viable alternative should be dismissed when it comes to maintaining women's rights to have control over their own bodies. While every legal method must be exploited to protect this basic right, work can not stop at pushing towards legislative guarantees. I will fight in Congress for a woman's right to make her own healthcare decisions and have it codified into federal law.   

9. Please state three specific policies you support to address climate change.

The federal government must take an active role in combating the effects of climate change by investing in R&D for carbon neutral technologies, incentives to aid in their adoption, and forming robust climate goals and plans to reach them both domestically and within the international community.

We must speed up research and development of carbon neutral technologies, and provide incentives to aid in their adoption. Through federal infrastructure spending, we can replace inefficient and dirty energy with new technologies to reduce our carbon footprint — and much of that research and development capability is right here in RTP! Further investment in such R&D should be targeted towards areas like ours where the skilled and educated workforce is already trained and eager to help find these solutions. The talented workforce in the Triangle is eager to and capable of helping build more resilient infrastructure that is designed for the climate of the future rather than the climate of the past. Congress should invest in that.

Just as urgently, we've got to use the regulatory power that Congress has to crack down on polluters and dirty energy! And we must pass legislation to guide the economy towards clean, renewable energy.

10. Do you believe Congress should pass the Freedom to Vote Act to guarantee free and fair elections for every American, limit the impact of money on elections, and restrict gerrymandering?

Yes. Without question. I ran as a Democrat in a deeply Republican district in 2014 in large part to bring attention to the destructive effects of gerrymandering — something that has been eroding American democracy for decades. As a party we have long watched Republican efforts to restrict the power of individuals' votes. And yet our strong legislative push for voting rights laws didn't begin in earnest until 2021 — eight years after Shelby County v Holder gutted the original Voting Rights Act.

I plan to use my voice most powerfully for a rapid return to the proactive and results driven party that Democrats historically have excelled at being. We must pass national legislation to ensure that districts are drawn by nonpartisan commissions instead of by politicians. We should also expand access to voting by making Election Day a federal holiday, increasing early voting hours and locations, and implementing NC's long-standing, no excuse absentee mail voting nationwide.

11. Are there any issues this questionnaire has not addressed that you would like to address?

This election is the first time in 50 years that the citizens of Durham have had an opportunity to elect a member of Congress who will put the needs of Durham first. Every Congressional representative who has represented Durham since 1972 has been from Chapel Hill, Raleigh, or Wilson. This year is an incredible opportunity for the fourth largest city in NC — and one of the fastest growing in America — to send someone to Congress who will put the needs of Durham first. I spent my childhood in northern Durham and Bahama. I worked the concession stands at DBAP in high school. I built a house and moved right back to Durham after Idol. My son was born at Durham Regional. Durham is as much a part of me as I am of it.

But unfortunately for Durham and the rest of our district, we’ve recently seen a thirty year old billionaire who has never even been to our city, let alone our state, spending upwards of a million dollars to buy this election. This outside spending is the antithesis of democracy, unfairly tipping the scales, and taking power away from the people of the district to choose their representative. We’re left to wonder, why is a billionaire spending so much money to support one candidate? Why does one person, who’s not even from the district, get to have such an outsized impact on the course of this election? I’m disheartened that this is the case and ask all who are planning to vote in this election to do their own research and choose the candidate that most aligns with their values.



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US House 4th District: Singer Clay Aiken making second run to represent home state in Congress




US House 4th District: Singer Clay Aiken making second run to represent home state in Congress


Updated: 4:43 PM EDT May 3, 2022

Singer and actor Clay Aiken who came to fame as a runner-up on “American Idol” nearly two decades ago is making his second run for a seat as an American congressman in his home state of North Carolina.

"In today's political climate, if you're not able to get people to pay attention to the needs of your area, then you're not going to get anywhere and you're not going to be effective in getting legislation passed to provide for the people who are in your district," Aiken said.


Aiken said the celebrity spotlight helped him win the Democratic party's nomination for the Second Congressional district seat in 2014 before falling to incumbent Republican Renee Elmers.

He's looking to take over the seat currently occupied by fellow Democrat David Price. Price is retiring after spending 34 of the last 36 years in Congress.

Aiken said Price was the person who first got him interested in politics, and said it would be an honor to fill his seat.

If Aiken is able to win the seat, he said he'll focus on infrastructure, affordable housing and reorganizing low-income school funding.

The district includes all of Durham, Orange, Person, Alamance and Granville counties, as well as a portion of Caswell County.

"If you're living in an area like Chapel Hill, Carrboro. And the neighborhoods and the district itself does not necessarily have a high poverty level, then the only way to get that extra funding is to cram all of your low-income students into two or three schools, which they've done there to get that money," Aiken said. "So I'd like to rewrite that and make sure that we're not incentivizing districts to create low-income schools or underachieving schools."


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Clay Aiken talks 1-on-1 with CBS 17’s Russ Bowen



Clay Aiken talks 1-on-1 with CBS 17’s Russ Bowen

by: Russ Bowen

Posted: May 3, 2022 / 04:51 PM EDT

Updated: May 3, 2022 / 04:51 PM EDT

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Democrats are favored to win North Carolina’s newly drawn 4th congressional district which includes Durham, Orange, Granville, Person and Alamance counties.

Clay Aiken is on the ballot in the upcoming primary.

American Idol is what made Aiken famous but in the 20 years since the singing competition, the Democrat has spent time as an advocate and tried once before to win a seat in Congress.

Aiken sat down with CBS 17’s Russ Bowen to talk about the economy and inflation, Ukraine, and the future of Roe v. Wade.



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Buying a Blue Seat




Buying a Blue Seat

How the race for North Carolina’s most progressive district became the most expensive Democratic congressional primary in state history.


Two months before the May 17 Democratic primary, Nida Allam’s congressional campaign was optimistic. 

Allam, a 28-year-old Durham County commissioner, had raised nearly $700,000 in less than six months. She’d soon bank the endorsements of Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. And she believed her top rival, state Sen. Valerie Foushee, was struggling to generate enthusiasm despite 25 years in office and the backing of more than two dozen local Democratic officials. 

Then, suddenly, everything changed. 

Since mid-March, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a political action committee (PAC) that supports pro-Israel candidates, has funneled more than $433,000 into Foushee’s coffers, accounting for 54 percent of the campaign’s total fundraising, according to Federal Elections Commission records. 

Then came the super PACs—independent organizations that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money promoting candidates or issues. In April, the AIPAC-affiliated United Democracy Project, Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), and Protect Our Future, which is funded by a 30-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire, began saturating the Triangle with nearly $2.7 million in advertising on Foushee’s behalf. 

Including what candidates have raised themselves, the contest is the most expensive Democratic congressional primary in North Carolina history. And as of Monday, the race has seen more spending from outside groups than any state primary for U.S. House in either party. That funding has propelled Foushee to a 19-point lead—a much more sizable advantage than her campaign’s internal polling had her at just a few weeks ago.

The outside money has also exposed the fecklessness of regulations designed to prohibit coordination between campaigns and their super PACs and put into sharp relief a challenge facing campaign finance reform: During the campaign, Foushee promised to fight the influence of big money. But if she wins, big money will have paved her road to Washington. 


AIPAC’s motives aren’t a secret. It wants to defeat Allam, the first Muslim woman elected to office in North Carolina. 

Foushee is a means to that end. Between April 15 and May 3, United Democracy Project spent $1.47 million backing the state senator, on top of the $433,000 AIPAC and its members directly contributed to her campaign. 

Foushee’s campaign manager said in a statement that she won AIPAC’s support “because of her unequivocal support for a two-state solution in the Middle East and her belief that Israel is a critically important strategic ally—and the only democracy—in the region.”

But many Democrats have become wary of AIPAC in recent years. Every Democratic presidential candidate skipped AIPAC’s annual conference in 2019. The organization opposed President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, supported the right-wing government of former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and has been accused by some progressives—including new White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre—of “trafficking in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric.” 

AIPAC wouldn’t be in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District if it weren’t for Allam, who has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the $3.8 billion a year in military aid the U.S. gives Israel. In a December op-ed, Allam apologized for a 2018 tweet that “unintentionally invoked anti-Semitic tropes.”  

“As the daughter of immigrants, my foreign policy views always center peace and the defense of human rights abroad,” Allam, who became a political organizer after three Muslim friends were murdered in 2015, told The Assembly in an email. “I believe the United States has a responsibility to pursue peace and ensure that both Israelis and Palestinians can live with dignity.”

After campaign finance reports revealed AIPAC’s bundled donations, the Progressive Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party revoked its endorsement of Foushee. The caucus pointed out that AIPAC also endorsed most of the Republicans who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s election on Jan. 6, 2021. 

On April 25, Foushee told a forum of Granville County Democrats that “many” of the AIPAC members who donated to her “have supported my campaign as a school board member, as a county commissioner, and as a legislator. And no one ever questioned those doctors, lawyers, and teachers who live in my district, and who have donated to me.” 

That’s not true. 

Of the 399 donations AIPAC bundled for Foushee through the end of April, only 26 came from North Carolina, and just seven came from people who can actually vote for her, Federal Election Commission records show. Most contributors live in California, Florida, or New York. AIPAC also generated 85 percent of the money Foushee raised in April.

Foushee declined to respond to The Assembly’s questions about her misleading statement.  

At the Granville County forum, Foushee also complained that she, ”this one Black Baptist female,” was being singled out over AIPAC’s funding when the group supported other Democrats, too. 

AIPAC has donated to other Democrats, including congressional candidates Jeff Jackson and Don Davis. It has also given money to every House member seeking reelection in North Carolina, Democrat or Republican, except Madison Cawthorn, records show. 

But none of those other candidates has received more than $19,400 from AIPAC’s committee or members, less than 5 percent of what the group gave Foushee. And only Davis—a moderate state senator running against a progressive who wants to provide equal aid to Israel and Palestinians—has backing from United Democracy Project, which has spent $1.7 million on the race as of May 9

On May 4, DMFI, another pro-Israel super PAC led by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, began running more than $218,000 in digital and television ads promoting Foushee, FEC records show. 

State Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat who endorsed Foushee early in the campaign, says Foushee’s reliance on AIPAC has made her reconsider her support. 

“I was very disappointed to see that Sen. Foushee’s campaign accepted the money from AIPAC,” Morey told The Assembly. “I know they have said it won’t influence her thinking. But with that large a campaign contribution, it has to influence your thinking on political issues.”


The motivations behind Protect Our Future’s $982,000 investment are more opaque. 

The PAC launched in January with $14 million, of which $13 million came from Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of a cryptocurrency exchange based in the Bahamas. The PAC says its agenda has nothing to do with digital currencies. A spokesperson says it aims to build “a set of champions for pandemic preparedness.”  

To date, FEC records show that Protect Our Future has spent $14.4 million in six Democratic primaries, all in Democratic-leaning districts. On April 27, the group announced that it planned to spend another $10 million on nearly a dozen more Democratic primary candidates, NBC News reported

Responding to The Assembly’s questions, the group declined to explain why it jumped into North Carolina’s 4th District or how it evaluates candidates. It also did not explain why it believes Foushee would be better for a future pandemic than her rivals, who include Duke University climate-health expert Ashley Ward and virologist Richard Watkins. 

“Valerie Foushee has demonstrated strong leadership in the wake of extraordinary times while serving in the state senate and supporting the delivery of COVID-19 relief to the people of North Carolina,” Protect Our Future President Michael Sadowsky said in a statement. 

Bankman-Fried, who also personally contributed $2,900 to Foushee, did not respond to an email seeking an interview. Protect Our Future did not say what role he plays in the PAC’s endorsements. 

Ray La Raja, a political scientist who studies campaign finance at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, says it’s likely no coincidence that Protect Our Future’s funds have gone to establishment candidates at a time when Congress is considering cryptocurrency regulations. 

“If you want to do well with the [Democratic Party] leadership,” La Raja said, “form a super PAC and make sure that people they like get elected.”

Independent expenditures in House and Senate primaries doubled between 2016 and 2020, and 2022 has already set a record, according to OpenSecrets.org. In part, that’s because deep-pocketed interest groups can get more bang for the buck in primaries, experts say. 

In general elections, there aren’t many movable voters, so big spenders face diminishing returns. 

“Voters don't know as much [in primaries], turnout is lower, and there’s usually not a dime's worth of ideological difference between the candidates,” said Chris Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina University and contributor to The Assembly. “So this is where money still matters in American politics.”

La Raja also said that political parties have figured out how to use super PACs to put their thumb on the scale while maintaining a veneer of neutrality, which is what he believes is happening in the 4th District. 

“They’re using super PACs to do their dirty work,” he said.


Weeks before the super PAC money started pouring into the 4th District, internet, and telephone polls tested attacks against Allam. 

The polls—who commissioned them is still unclear—told respondents that Allam had affiliations with terrorist sympathizers and “radical anti-Israel activists,” according to screengrabs and recordings obtained by The Assembly

Foushee has denied responsibility for the polls. And so far, neither her campaign nor the super PACs supporting her have run negative ads. Instead, they’ve stuck to positive messages highlighting Foushee’s biography—often using the same imagery, the same themes, and even the same language. 

United Democracy Project’s ads don’t mention Israel or Allam. Protect Our Future’s ads say nothing about the pandemic or cryptocurrency. They all stick to the script Foushee laid out on her website. 

While the FEC says it’s illegal for outside groups to spend money “at the request or suggestion” of a candidate, it happens all the time. 

Soon after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to unlimited spending with the Citizens United decision in 2010, political operatives found a loophole in FEC regulations banning candidates from coordinating their messaging with super PACs: a broadly written “safe harbor” provision that permits super PACs to use “publicly available material,” including material on candidates’ websites. 

This gave birth to “redboxing,” a practice in which campaigns “transmit instructions for advertising, polling, and targeting data, and other useful materials to super PACs with the intent to direct the expenditures of these nominally independent groups,” as Kaveri Sharma explained in a recent article for the Yale Law Journal. 

These instructions are often contained inside red boxes on the candidates’ websites. This strategy “allows operatives to plausibly—though disingenuously—deny that they communicate with outside groups to coordinate strategy,” Sharma wrote. 

The redbox message on Foushee’s website tells super PACs that voters “only need to know about Valerie Foushee,” including that she “has dedicated her life to public service” and “stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Governor Roy Cooper to stop radical Republican attacks on women’s right to choose and our freedom to vote.”

Allam and candidate Clay Aiken, the former American Idol singer, also have redboxes. The Allam-backing Working Families Party National PAC recently spent $50,000 on social media ads that borrow liberally from Allam’s messaging; in total, the super PAC has spent about $189,000 on Allam’s behalf. (FEC records show no independent expenditures on Aiken’s behalf.)

In her article, Sharma argued that redboxes “facilitate unlawful contributions” from super PACs because they “more closely resemble requests or suggestions for communications” than content intended for public consumption. 

But as written, the rules are unenforceable, experts say. 

“[This is] one of the real inadequacies of our current campaign-finance regime,” said Erin Chlopak, senior director of campaign finance at the government watchdog group Campaign Legal Center. “The law really hasn’t kept up with the development of super PACs and other independent spending.”

Last year, Rep. David Price, who has represented the 4th District for most of the last 36 years, sponsored a bill to narrow the safe harbor provision, but it didn’t pass. 

Allam says she supports Price’s legislation and points out that she was endorsed by the group End Citizens United

Aiken told The Assembly he would go further: “I’d advocate for banning all outside spending entirely, and only allowing candidates to raise money from within their district.”

Foushee’s campaign did not provide her position on Price’s bill or respond to questions about her super PAC support. But in a questionnaire for the Durham People’s Alliance, she wrote, “The idea that ‘the candidate with the most money usually wins’ is a terribly undemocratic way to elect the best and brightest to elected positions. Frankly, it makes me sick. But as long as this is the system we are operating under, I, as a candidate, must play ball—Republicans definitely are.”

In this overwhelmingly Democratic district, whoever wins the primary will be a prohibitive favorite in November. 

Foushee didn’t need to be a bystander while super PACs bought her a congressional seat, said Morey, the state representative. 

“I think she could publicly disavow it: ‘I never asked for this. I have not pursued this. They're doing it independently. This will not influence anything about me. I’m against corporate PAC money. I'm against bundling money. And we need to totally redo our campaign finance laws.’”


Jeffrey Billman reports on criminal justice and politics from Durham. He is the former editor-in-chief of INDY Week. Tips: jeffreybillman@protonmail.com.



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The Anti–Madison Cawthorn Campaign Is Also Anti-Gay, Some Democrats Fear




The Anti–Madison Cawthorn Campaign Is Also Anti-Gay, Some Democrats Fear

“There’s plenty of shit to attack Madison Cawthorn about…without having to stoop to these homophobic stereotypes or tropes,” Clay Aiken said.


David Mack



Chris Seward / AP

Rep. Madison Cawthorn at a Trump rally last month in Selma, North Carolina.


Clay Aiken is pissed off.

The former American Idol star and Democrat, who is hoping to prevail in next week’s North Carolina primaries to represent Durham and become the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress from the South, is no fan of Rep. Madison Cawthorn. Neither are many Republicans in the state, including Sen. Thom Tillis.

But Aiken has been chafed by what he says is a disgusting anti-gay undercurrent to the recent onslaught of sexualized material released against the 26-year-old Republican.

“I am loath to defend him in any way but I will say that that last video with him on the bed pissed me off,” Aiken told BuzzFeed News, referring to a leaked video that showed Cawthorn in a bed, his naked buttocks visible, simulating sex with a male friend.



Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

Clay Aiken in November 2018 in New York City


“The idea that anybody would gay-shame someone in order to try to embarrass him in that district and then call themselves a Democrat, I think is ridiculous,” Aiken said. “And if Democrats are the ones who are attacking him and using his sexual orientation — or worse, jokes about what might be a perceived sexual orientation — I don't really want them in my party, to be honest.”

Since Cawthorn outraged his fellow lawmakers in DC in March by asserting that he had been invited to cocaine-fueled orgies (a claim he later said, after being privately admonished by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, was exaggerated), there have been a series of humiliating leaks and allegations made against him.

But Democrats are divided on both the strategy and the ultimate impact of the attacks. Even within the local LGBTQ community, some believe the salacious material is beneath them and plays into anti-gay stereotypes, while others feel that it rightly highlights the hypocrisy of politicians who fail to meet their own moral standards of decency.

David Wheeler, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the North Carolina State Senate in 2020 and is now leading the PAC focused on ousting Cawthorn that published the video, says they’re merely fighting fire with fire.

“We have not been afraid to take the fight to Madison Cawthorn, who deserves it, for goodness’ sake,” Wheeler said. “The Democrats, for all their good intentions, aren't fighting.”

There’s also speculation from Cawthorn’s camp that most of the attacks are actually coming from other Republicans seeking to destroy him.

“I don't think that the left is necessarily involved, because why would they have to get involved when he's coming under attack from his own?” said a source familiar with the operations of Cawthorn’s office, who is also a friend of the Congress member.

Pool New / Reuters

Cawthorn arriving to the State of the Union address in March

Cawthorn’s recent scandals intensified last month when Politico published photos showing him in a bar wearing women’s lingerie. Then American Muckrakers, Wheeler’s PAC, which runs the anti-Cawthorn website Fire Madison, filed an ethics complaint against him, alleging he provided free housing to a staffer, with whom the group also suggested Cawthorn was in “a personal relationship…separate and apart from the professional relationship of employer and employee.” The PAC’s evidence for that suggestion included an old photo of them reclining on each other while shirtless in a pool; purported Venmo payments between them from 2018 in which they wrote things like, “Nudes,” “For loving me daily and nightly,” and “Getting naked for me in Sweden”; and a video in which the other man grabbed Cawthorn’s crouch as they laughed together in a car.

Finally last week, the same group published the video to Fire Madison showing a naked Cawthorn dry humping a friend in bed and grunting. “Madison,” the man says amid laughter. “Your ass is on my face!”

Cawthorn immediately hit back at what he said was a hit job from his political enemies designed to blackmail him. “Years ago, in this video, I was being crass with a friend, trying to be funny. We were acting foolish, and joking. That’s it,” he tweeted after the video was released. “I’m NOT backing down. I told you there would be a drip drip campaign.”

In a statement to BuzzFeed News for this story, Cawthorn said:

The establishment ‘right’ and the radical left have teamed up to defeat me and my campaign for the people of western North Carolina. I call the swamp out on their bullcrap, and I’ve shone a light on the corruption in Washington. They despise me for it. Their blackmail and intimidation tactics will fail. I’m ready to move past this primary and unite the NC-11 GOP in defeating the Democrats’ nominee in November.

But the attacks are piling up and the first-term Congress member’s image has taken a dent among his own party. According to Rolling Stone, even Cawthorn’s political hero, Donald Trump, is said to be “completely weirded out” by the scandals.

“What we're seeing about Cawthorn is as close to unprecedented as we can get in these unprecedented times,” said Christopher Cooper, a professor of political science at Western Carolina University.

Cooper noted that Cawthorn finds himself in the highly unusual position of being under attack from three fronts: the Democrats and their supporters working on the Fire Madison campaign; the Republican PAC aligned with Sen. Tillis, Results for NC, which is spending six figures to try to oust Cawthorn in a primary; and his own disgruntled ex-staffers and friends.

Indeed, the source close to Cawthorn, who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely, told BuzzFeed News they believed most of the recent “onslaught of negative press” against him was being orchestrated not by Democrats but by “establishment” Republicans, including Tillis. They pointed to a recent string of critical stories in the conservative Washington Examiner and said they believed these Republicans were “shopping around” leaks about Cawthorn, then giving it to groups like American Muckrakers if the news media declined to publish them.

“It's almost as if it appears there's going to be a baton that's passed off,” this source said. “The Republicans can try and do their damage now, and then the Democrats can take it from here and push forward.”

Representatives for Tillis and Results for NC didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Whoever may be behind the leak campaign, Cooper at the Western Carolina University says the motivation is the same: sully Cawthorn’s image and portray him as reckless and immature. “No one is going to see the video of him on that bed and think that looks like a person acting maturely,” Cooper said.

But in the more rural and conservative parts of the district, Cooper believes the “salacious videos” may take on a different meaning. “Those videos — the release of them is a dog whistle for ‘gay,’” Cooper said. “I don’t know any other way to say it.”

The source close to Cawthorn said they believed this was evidence “social conservatives” were behind the campaign. “They're trying to paint that image, and it's a false image. Madison is not — you know, he is straight — but if they're able to paint that perception and embarrass and try to chip away at the base, that's their goal.” the source said. “And some folks are turned off by that.”

Some of Cawthorn’s avowed enemies on the left can also see anti-gay undercurrents to the attacks. Patrick Brothwell, a marketing professional in Asheville (a liberal bastion in Cawthorn’s otherwise conservative district) who has written op-eds against the Republican in the local newspaper, said that as a gay man he’s felt uncomfortable with what he sees as homophobia.

“I guess I am conflicted over it,” Brothwell said. “It is nice. Obviously, I want him to get his comeuppance. I don't want him to be our representative. I think he's very dangerous. [But] we put them in these trappings of, like, ‘Yeah, he's wearing a dress or he's naked humping somebody.’ That's the least of his problems, but that's what people do grab onto.

“This is kind of essentially counting on District 11’s homophobia or the nation's homophobia,” Brothwell said.

Instead of what he believes were Cawthorn’s ”embarrassing frat guy antics,” Brothwell said he would prefer that the attacks on the Congress member focused on his other controversies — of which there are many.

The Washington Post / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Cawthorn poses for photos at the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC in Orlando in February.

Long before his election, Cawthorn has been the subject of scandal. He lied about his plans to attend the US Naval Academy having been “derailed” by the car accident that partially paralyzed him, when in reality his application had already been rejected by the time of the crash. His former classmates at a Christian university in Virginia also told BuzzFeed News he had been aggressive, misogynistic, or predatory toward them while at school, sometimes entrapping and harassing them as he drove recklessly in his car.

During his campaign, Cawthorn briefly hid a picture from his Instagram that showed him vacationing at Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest villa in Germany. Cawthorn, who once registered an LLC with a name featuring a Latin acronym that is popular with white nationalists, also came under fire when his campaign website criticized someone for working “for non-white males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males running for office.”

In addition to the controversy around his cocaine/orgy comments, in recent months, he has been charged with driving without a license, cited twice for speeding, stopped by TSA agents for trying to bring a gun on an airplane for a second time, and been the subject of calls (by Tillis) for an investigation into possible insider trading. His reelection is also facing a longshot challenge from opponents who argue he violated the Constitution through his ties to the Jan. 6 insurrection (Cawthorn was one of two sitting federal lawmakers to speak to the crowd before they stormed the Capitol).

Kendra Johnson, executive director of the LGBTQ rights group Equality North Carolina, said these are the issues that she and her fellow Cawthorn opponents must focus on, not things that she said were rooted in anti-gay and anti-trains prejudice.

“The reality is there's enough about his record and his conduct beyond him wearing lingerie or beyond him being in a same-sex relationship that is deeply problematic and that is what we should be focused on,” Johnson said. “Dirty politics should not be the name of the game.”

But Wheeler maintained there was no anti-gay sentiment behind the recent attacks, although he conceded it was fair for people to interpret them that way. His PAC, he insisted, had only sought to portray Cawthorn as a hypocrite who is willing to attack the lifestyles of his enemies.

Some in the local LGBTQ community agree with him. Tina White, executive director of the Blue Ridge Pride Center, does not see any disguised anti-gay sentiment. “I think it's just calling out the hypocrisy of a political leadership who claim that they represent a certain form of moral purity and decency,” White said. “In fact, they're rich bullies who meet none of their own moral standards that they claim to represent and they thrive on terrorizing our children with a lot of the bills they're trying to pass right now.”

Still, Wheeler’s group has faced backlash. FireMadison.com went offline late last week after the website’s host received a complaint about the nude Cawthorn video being posted. A person who said they were a Democrat living in North Carolina told Gawker they reported the page for posting what they believed amounted to "revenge pornography." They also said they reported the American Muckrakers PAC to ActBlue, the nonprofit tech company that facilitates fundraising for left-wing groups and candidates. ActBlue confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the PAC’s account was no longer active on its website.

“I think Madison Cawthorn is a shameful person and a bad politician,” the person who complained told Gawker. “But I don't think a homophobia-driven campaign to kick him out of office is consistent with our values.”

Wheeler confirmed that the website’s host had threatened to shut them down if they did not remove the video, but he said it was due to nudity. “I think it was the bare hairy ass of Madison Cawthorn that offended them because the revenge porn statute does not apply in this case whatsoever,” Wheeler said.

“There’s plenty of shit to attack Madison Cawthorn about, to be upset at Madison Cawthorn over, without having to stoop to these homophobic stereotypes or tropes,” Aiken said.

The ultimate judgment on the videos rests with voters, Wheeler said, but Cawthorn’s sexuality is not at issue.

“Hell, I’d vote for the guy if he admitted—” Wheeler said, catching himself. “No, wait, let’s back off on that.”



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Singer, state senator, activist highlight Congressional race in Durham, Chapel Hill




Singer, state senator, activist highlight Congressional race in Durham, Chapel Hill

Posted May 6, 2022 11:47 a.m. EDT
Updated May 10, 2022 10:22 a.m. EDT

The House is set to vote on whether President Donald Trump should be impeached.

By Paul Specht, WRAL statehouse reporter

Durham and Chapel Hill’s open congressional seat will likely be won with money, moxie or fame.

Longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price is retiring at the end of his term after serving parts of the Triangle for more than 30 years. The leading contenders to replace Price—each from diverse personal and professional backgrounds—are relying on different campaign strategies.

North Carolina’s new 4th Congressional District, which covers Orange, Durham, Person, Granville and Alamance counties, leans heavily democratic. That puts the focus on the May 17 Democratic primary.

  • State Sen. Valerie Foushee, considered the establishment favorite, is buoyed by key endorsements and support from independent political groups. The race has become one of the most expensive in the country, with Foushee benefitting from more than $1.8 million in outside spending.
  • Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam says she has a “robust” field program to build awareness about her progressive platform.
  • Then there’s Clay Aiken, who rose to fame as a singer on the “American Idol” television show and is the only candidate with experience winning a congressional primary. He hopes to have an edge in name recognition and campaign experience.
  • Community organizer Crystal Cavalier; small business owner Matt Grooms; Army Reserve officer Stephen Valentine; environmental expert Ashley Ward and virologist Richard Watkins are also running.

In the past decade, the counties making up the new 4th district have ballooned as the Triangle has attracted new industries and transplants. The region has become more diverse, too, with the Hispanic and Asian communities becoming a larger percentage of Durham County’s population. In this election, voters are likely to elect state’s first openly-gay man, its first Muslim woman, or it’s third Black woman to Congress.


“We have known for a long time that whenever Congressman Price chooses to retire, that that would be a pretty dramatic change,” said Asher Hildebrand, a political science expert at Duke University who previously served as Price’s chief of staff.

“And if you just look at the field of candidates running to replace him and especially the front runners, you see that change,” he said. “Any one of them would bring a different perspective, different identity than Congressman Price has had.”

Hildebrand said he can envision scenarios where any of the top candidates win: Foushee with her money and establishment connections, Allam with her energy and organizing ability, or Aiken benefitting from his celebrity.

Endorsement battle

Democratic insiders think Foushee might have an advantage. She was an administrator in the Chapel Hill Police Department before serving on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board, becoming the first Black woman elected to the Orange County Board of Commissioners and then climbing the ranks in the state legislature. Aiken and Allam likely have more name recognition in Durham, the district’s largest city.

Durham also has a large Black community, and Foushee has the support of Democratic U.S. Reps. Alma Adams and G.K. Butterfield, as well as Congressional Black Caucus’ political committee and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

Those endorsements, combined with the help from outside groups, “will be the difference in the race and she'll win Durham really big,” said Morgan Jackson, a campaign strategist known for his work with Gov. Roy Cooper. Jackson supports Foushee in the race.

Durham City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson said she expects the Durham Committee’s endorsement of Foushee to help the candidate. However, she rejected the idea that it and other endorsements will make the race a slam dunk for her.

“There are also lots of Black folks in Durham who are excited about a progressive woman of color candidate who can do the job a little bit differently from your standard sort of, you know, liberal or or moderate Democrat,” said Johnson, who supports Allam. She endorsed Allam because she’s the most progressive top candidate and is capable of mobilizing a diverse range of voters.

Miles Coleman, a political analyst for Sabato's Crystal Ball, offered examples of recent Democratic primaries that might offer hope to lesser-funded candidates. For instance, Rep. Jamie Raskin in 2016 won the Democratic primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, near the District of Columbia, despite having to run against a self-funded candidate in Dave Trone and a candidate with some establishment support and fame in journalist Kathleen Matthews.

Raskin was outspent by his opponents, but he benefited because he ran on a progressive platform near a major university, and universities tend to vote for more liberal candidates, Coleman said.

“With several universities, NC-4 is another district where a younger, college-educated bloc could be influential in a Democratic primary,” he said.

Outside spending

The outside spending, while beneficial to Foushee, has also proven controversial. Some see the influx of cash as a coordinated effort to stifle Allam.

Foushee’s embrace of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) prompted the North Carolina Democratic Party’s progressive caucus to revoke its support for her, citing AIPAC’s previous support of Republicans who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Allam called on Israel to end its “illegal, violent occupation of the Palestinian people” in an opinion article for Indyweek.

Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who endorsed Allam, called out AIPAC for spending $10 million in races across the country where progressive women are candidates. “Why are they so afraid of strong, progressive women of color fighting for the working class?” Sanders tweeted.


The Protect Our Future PAC, founded by cryptocurrency billionaire Samuel Bankman-Fried, is also spending at least $771,000 to help Foushee in the primary. Like AIPAC, Bankman-Fried has also supported Republicans—including Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who’s under fire for supporting U.S. Supreme Court justices who may overturn the landmark abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade.

A spokesman for the Protect Our Future PAC said the group supports Foushee because she prioritizes pandemic preparedness and environmental justice.

Allam, who’s now pregnant, has spoken openly about her fertility struggles and previously needing an abortion for an ectopic pregnancy. That experience “makes this campaign all the more real that I'm fighting for women's reproductive health care, I'm fighting for my daughter and for her generation to have a brighter future [and shows] why we need to have more working moms elected to Congress,” she told WRAL.

Jackson believes the outside spending in Foushee is a sign establishment types “don't want a squad member from North Carolina,” Jackson said, referring to a group of progressive congresswomen that includes Democratic U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Aiken told WRAL that he’s not as concerned with outside spending as he is with offensive push-poll texts he’s heard about from area voters. “I have seen, unfortunately, some pretty nasty and awful Islamophobic push-poll stuff,” Aiken said. “I find that incredibly disturbing and upsetting.”

Ryan Jenkins, leader of the local party’s progressive caucus, provided WRAL with a screenshot of a poll question he received, which says:

“Allam said her role model and mentor is a woman who showed support for a terrorist who was convicted of bombing a supermarket, killing two college students.” Jenkins said the text didn’t reveal who paid for the poll, but he believes the text and the outside spending are a sign that Foushee can’t win on her own.

“It's easy to be good and have a sterling reputation when you're in a safe district and there's no challenge to you,” Jenkins said. “When you get into a real fight and you start losing, that sort of desperation reveals who you are as a human being … I think she got scared and desperate. And then she sold out hard.”

Foushee told WRAL that voters don’t seem to care about the methods candidates use to get their message out.

“These are not the conversations that I've been having with constituents,” Foushee said. “People want to talk about jobs. They want to talk about health care. They want to talk about the economy. They want to talk about criminal justice. They want to talk about the environment.”

Office experience vs. campaign experience

Foushee says she didn’t consider running for Congress until Price announced his retirement, and supporters called her to encourage her.

Foushee says her years of experience working across the aisle make her the candidate best suited to get things done in Washington. She pointed to her work with Republican state Sen. 

“There are certain folks that are good to work with on the other side of the aisle and that are amenable to working on things together. And some of them aren't,” Britt said. “And Sen. Foushee is one of those folks that's just good to work with and reasonable and doesn't mind working in compromising on good legislation.”

Aiken has never won elected office but is the only candidate who has won a congressional primary. In 2014, he scored a narrow victory against businessman Keith Crisco before going on to lose to U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in the general election.

Now Aiken, who’s supported by a large LGBTQ-rights group called Equality PAC, says he launched his campaign in an attempt to o counter “hateful” rhetoric with an equally loud but more welcoming tone. Aiken says his fame helped him bring resources to groups that serve children with special needs. He now wants to use it to secure funding for things like affordable housing, transportation and education. He cited his relationship with conservative pundit Meghan McCain as an example of how he can build bridges to potentially bring more resources back to the district.

“I don't dislike [Republicans]. I disagree with them,” Aiken said, adding that he and McCain “don't agree on much. But we understand that in order to get anything done, you have to find opportunities to look at ways that you can work together.”

Allam, asked about working across the aisle, said she believes in the importance of keeping the needs of “working families” front and center: “Who needs to have a representative the most in this district that hasn't had a voice?” she said. When you keep that mentality, relationships form because “Republican [and] Democratic legislators alike have constituents that are in need of their service and support.”

Allam believes she understands the need for change better than other candidates.

“We need a green New Deal to save our planet and create millions of jobs and transition us away from the fossil fuel industry,” she said. “I'm a candidate that believes we need Medicare for All. I'm one of over 250,000 North Carolinians that lost my access to health care when I was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic.”



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charlotteobserver.com (and several other NC news sites)

In expensive primary for NC Democrats, Clay Aiken criticizes Valerie Foushee for PAC money



In expensive primary for NC Democrats, Clay Aiken criticizes Valerie Foushee for PAC money


MAY 11, 2022 1:04 PM

North Carolina’s Democratic primary for a congressional seat representing Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding areas has gained national attention for the millions in super PAC money backing candidate Valerie Foushee.

Now one of other frontrunners is criticizing his fellow Democrat over the flood of outside money.

Clay Aiken, a special education teacher before he became a celebrity known nationally for “American Idol” and “Celebrity Apprentice,” held a news conference to highlight what he called “dark money” being spent in support of Foushee in a race to replace retiring Rep. David Price, who Aiken credited with being the No. 1 proponent of getting money out of politics. Aiken called it “infuriating and upsetting.”

Price is not endorsing any candidate in the primary.

Aiken said that too many Democrats are not “practicing what we preach” about super PAC money. Aiken said that he previously had deep respect for Foushee, and that “it is disappointing to have lost respect for someone.”

“It’s painful to learn things about people that you cared about, care about,” Aiken told reporters. He also criticized her lack of attendance at candidate forums, saying he only saw her at one of them.

The News & Observer has asked Foushee’s campaign for a response to the criticism. The Assembly reported that she addressed AIPAC money at a recent forum, saying other Democrats receive it but she, ”this one Black Baptist female,” was being singled out for attacks over it.

Aiken said that if he wins, he plans to bring attention to issues around money in elections and will sponsor legislation named for Price about it. He said special-interest money “drowns out” the voices of candidates.

Foushee, a longtime elected official and a state senator, has benefited from $2.4 million spent independently by super PACs funded by pro-Israel group AIPAC and a crypto-currency billionaire, The N&O previously reported. The pro-Foushee television, digital and mail advertising has come from United Democracy Project and Protect Our Future.

Fellow candidate Ashley Ward of Orange County joined Aiken at his news conference Wednesday morning at the Durham County Main Library. Aiken and Ward are among eight Democrats running for the seat in the deep blue 4th Congressional District. Aiken said he asked Ward to join him because he knows how hard it is to start campaigning without a lot of money. Aiken previously ran unsuccessfully for Congress in a different district, against Republican Renee Ellmers.

Ward, who works at Duke University, talked about her experience working on climate change. She said she’s running because “I am a daughter of this district, I am loyal to this district” and said as a scientist she has a “voice and vision” to represent the district. Ward grew up in Durham before moving to Person County and then Orange County.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at https://campsite.bio/underthedome or wherever you get your podcasts.

Read more at: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/election/article261324972.html#storylink=cpy



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Pricey Triangle race spawns outcry, lost endorsements over outside spending




Pricey Triangle race spawns outcry, lost endorsements over outside spending

Posted May 11, 2022 4:10 p.m. EDT

Ashley Ward and Clay Aiken, Democrats running in North Carolina's 4th Congressional District, stand in front of the Durham Central Library on May 11 and speak out against an influx of outside spending helping their opponent, state Sen. Valerie Foushee.

By Paul Specht, WRAL state government reporter

The race to replace longtime U.S. Rep. David Price has become a contrast between local support and outside spending, with two opponents teaming up on Wednesday to decry the sources of funds flowing to the race’s money leader.

Meanwhile, a prominent legislator pulled support of a top candidate in the race over funding sources.

Former American Idol star Clay Aiken and environmental expert Ashley Ward stood on the steps of the Durham Central Library and called out one of their opponents in the 4th Congressional District for benefitting from an influx of outside money.

The press conference was the latest event to draw attention to spending in the race, which has been one of the state’s most expensive in almost two decades—a contest that has been pocked with sniping and lost endorsements over funding sources.


At least $2.8 million in outside money has been spent on the Democratic primary. More than 90% of it is benefitting state Sen. Valerie Foushee, a candidate from Orange County. The total is the largest amount of outside funding spent on any North Carolina House primary since at least 2004, according to an WRAL review of Center for Responsive Politics data. The center’s data only goes back to 2004.

Later on Wednesday, state Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) rescinded her support of Foushee, citing outside spending. Morey then announced her endorsement of Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, who is also vying for the seat.

“When I made an early endorsement of my colleague, Senator Foushee, I believed her promise to fight for campaign finance reform. I thought she would disavow undue outside influence of bundled PAC money. I am very disappointed she did not,” Morey said in a statement released by Allam’s campaign. “I now support Nida and am confident she will fight for campaign finance reform and progressive causes for all people.”


At the press conference, Aiken said the Democratic Party has a proud history of speaking out against the influence of dark money, which is generally defined as political money that comes from an undisclosed source. The Democrat-controlled U.S. House in 2019 passed an election law bill known as H.R. 1 that experts said would curb the influence of dark money in elections.

“It is incredibly disappointing to me because it's coming in and being condoned by a party and people who I have admired for years,” Aiken said. “It's been a very disappointing year for me to see how too many Democrats nowadays have been unwilling to actually practice what we preach as a party.”

Community organizer Crystal Cavalier, small business owner Matt Grooms, Army Reserve officer Stephen Valentine, and virologist Richard Watkins are also running in the Democratic primary.

In prepared remarks Wednesday, Aiken didn’t mention Foushee or her big money supporters by name. But he condemned candidates who accept support from groups that have histories of supporting Republicans.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is supporting Foushee, previously supported Republicans who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Foushee’s ties to the group prompted the North Carolina Democratic Party’s progressive caucus to revoke its support for her.

Aiken said Ward, a North Carolina native who says she took out a loan to run for office, is an example of someone who is most affected by big donors. The Protect Our Future PAC, founded by cryptocurrency billionaire Samuel Bankman-Fried, is also spending at least $771,000 to help Foushee in the primary.

“We are against dark money,” he said. “We are against the money of billionaires from the Bahamas and special interest groups drowning out the voices of candidates.”

Asked about Foushee specifically, Aiken noted that he hadn’t seen her on the campaign trail and that he had “lost respect” for her.
“It's painful to learn things about people that you cared about, [and still] care about,” he said.
The press conference was unusual in that it’s rare for two opponents to appear together in a unified manner against another opponent. Aiken, the only candidate in the race to win a congressional primary, is relying on name recognition and large individual donors to contend in what is seen as a three-way race between himself, Foushee and Allam.

Foushee’s campaign emailed WRAL a statement in response to Aiken’s press conference, saying she’s “one of dozens of progressive candidates and elected officials—including members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Democratic Party leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer—who has received support from AIPAC because of her unequivocal support for a two-state solution in the Middle East and her belief that Israel is a critically important strategic ally—and the only democracy—in the region.”

Foushee’s campaign also pushed back on Aiken’s claim that they’re not active in the community, saying she “has been meeting with voters across the district since the start of the campaign, and she will continue to do in various settings so that she can bring their concerns with her to Washington and get to work taking on the big challenges we face.”
Ward said she couldn’t ask for donations in good conscience without also investing in her campaign and spending long hours on the campaign trail.

“No, I am not the biggest fundraiser in this race,” Ward said. “But we have knocked on 12,500 doors in Durham and Chapel Hill. We've sent thousands of handwritten postcards. We are out at the polls and in the communities every single day. I really believe that if you want people to vote for you, and you want to represent a district, you have to show up for them.”



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Outside spending on Foushee dominates Democrats’ 4th District race. But does it count as dark money?



Outside spending on Foushee dominates Democrats’ 4th District race. But does it count as dark money?

by: Joedy McCreary




RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Clay Aiken isn’t happy that millions of dollars in outside money is pouring into his Democratic primary race for Congress.

“We’re the party that opposes dark money, and we’re the party that is swimming in it right now,” Aiken said earlier this week.

But one leading political scientist questions whether the object of Aiken’s criticism even qualifies as dark money in the first place.

“Is it dark money? Is it light money? I don’t know,” Western Carolina political science professor Chris Cooper said. “So the very least, kind of a charcoal-gray kind of money.”

What isn’t being debated: That there are massive amounts of outside cash flooding the Democratic primary in the state’s 4th Congressional District, where the highest-profile candidates include Aiken, the former American Idol runner-up; state senator Valerie Foushee and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam.

The overwhelming majority of it has gone to Foushee, the biggest beneficiary of spending from PACs tied to a 30-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire and a lobbying group that advocates for pro-Israel policies.

As of Friday, about $3.3 million in outside money has been spent in support of Foushee.

“This is big money in a general election. This would be big money in a U.S. Senate race,” Cooper said. “In a congressional primary? I’ve just never seen anything like this. I don’t think anybody in the state of North Carolina has.”

But it’s not entirely dark money if we know who’s donating it.

More than $2 million came from the United Democracy Project, the super PAC for AIPAC — a pro-Israel lobbying group. Another $1 million was from the Protect our Future PAC — which was founded by 30-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried.

“We know roughly where it’s coming from,” Cooper said. “But as far as the specifics of exactly who’s giving the money, and more importantly, why — that, we really don’t know.”

A spokesman for Protect our Future said the PAC supports candidates who “will be champions for pandemic prevention in Congress” and praised Foushee for her “strong leadership in unprecedented times” as a state senator during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has devastated people from all corners of our nation,” PAC spokesman Mike Levine said in a statement. “Despite that, there has been little federal action targeted at actually preventing future pandemics. Protect Our Future is supporting a slate of lawmakers who we believe will be vocal advocates for pandemic prevention in Congress.”

What does Foushee make of the outside support she has received?

Campaign spokeswoman Anna Nunn said in a statement that AIPAC backs her along with several other members of Congress “because of her unequivocal support for a two-state solution in the Middle East and her belief that Israel is a critically important strategic ally — and the only democracy — in the region.

“The Jewish community in particular has long been a friend to the African-American community, marching arm-in-arm with Dr. King and other Black leaders during the civil rights movement,” Nunn said.

But why dump so much money in this particular primary race in this district — which has leaned reliably Democratic?

Perhaps no one has a clearer view of that than Asher Hildebrand, who before becoming a professor at Duke University was the chief of staff for the retiring Congressman the candidates are attempting to replace — David Price.

“I just think you see these outside groups thinking they can have much greater impact spending in contested primaries than they can have in the general election, where the battle lines are kind of already drawn and the voters are a lot harder to persuade,” Hildebrand said.



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Dem primary for bright blue congressional district in N.C. shows split between left, establishment



Dem primary for bright blue congressional district in N.C. shows split between left, establishment

By Charles Duncan and Reuben Jones Central NC

PUBLISHED 2:27 PM ET May. 12, 2022

DURHAM, N.C. — North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District is about as blue as they get in the state. The district includes Alamance, Orange, Durham, Person and Granville counties. That shade of blue could be Tar Heels blue or Blue Devils blue, depending on whether people are closer to Durham or Chapel Hill.

Rep. David Price has represented the area in the U.S. House for much of the past 35 years, but the longtime Democratic congressman plans to retire from politics after this year. His retirement leaves an open seat for Democrats, and with the makeup of the district, the winner of the May 17 primary will most likely win the General Election.

Eight candidates are running in the Democratic primary, including longtime state Sen. Valerie Foushee, Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam and American Idol star Clay Aiken.

Price has not endorsed a candidate in the Democratic primary.

The primary race has attracted millions in outside spending, with most going to support Foushee’s campaign.

The top candidates in the race show the divide in the Democratic Party between the progressive wing on the left and the more centrist wing.

Some of the party’s top progressives in Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have endorsed 28-year-old Allam in the race.

On the other side, Foushee has the endorsement of longtime North Carolina representatives G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams. Foushee and Allam share many of the same policy goals in their platforms.

“Across the entire district we have some of the most progressive elected officials, and we need that to be reflected on the federal level as well,” Allam said in a recent interview.

“We see so many members of Congress now, the new generation, the new leadership stepping up. They know that we can’t just take ‘no’ for an answer,” she said.“We see so many members of Congress now, the new generation, the new leadership stepping up. They know that we can’t just take ‘no’ for an answer,” she said.

But Foushee told Spectrum News 1 Democrats need to be able to work with their colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

“We cannot continue to have a number of factions where we are not listening to each other, where we are not sitting across the table from each other and negotiating a stance that is going to do for the people and not just for the politics,” she said.

“We are the big tent party, and we welcome varying opinions about democracy,” she said.

The big issues in this election for Foushee are “voting rights, the economy and access to affordable health care.”

For Allam, the biggest issues she listed are access to health care and climate change, including passing a Green New Deal.

“We have less than 10 years to save this planet, and this isn’t something we can just keep passing down the road,” Allam said. “We need to take action.”

Aiken is another factor in the primary race for Democrats. This is the American Idol star’s second run for Congress. He lost a bid to unseat Rep. Renee Ellmers in 2014.

“When we have these dark blue districts, we have an opportunity to define who we are, and we need to make sure we are reminding people this party believes in progressive principles, we believe in the government giving everyone an equal opportunity,” Aiken said in a recent interview.

“Right now, I think the issues that are most important in places like Durham are the rising cost of living. I think affordable housing is probably on the top of mind for most people, he said.

Aiken has been critical of the outside money being spent in the primary race, taking particular aim at Foushee. He called a press conference the week before the primary to criticize super PAC spending in the 4th District primary.

Democrats are supposed to be the party opposed to super PACs, Aiken said. “We are against dark money,” he said.

“It's been a very disappointing year for me to see how too many Democrats nowadays have been unwilling to actually practice what we preach as a party,” he said.

In an interview, Foushee defended the outside money helping her in the primary, including contributions from people associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Protect Our Future, a super PAC supported by a cryptocurrency billionaire.

“AIPAC is an organization who believes in Israel as a sovereign state,” she said. “If they choose to find and contribute to a candidate who is pro-democracy, pro-peace, and pro the ability to contribute to the candidate of your choice, that’s my statement on that.”

That outside money led to the North Carolina Democratic Party’s progressive caucus withdrawing its support from Foushee.

“I cannot be bought. Nobody has asked to buy me,” Foushee said. “People have a right to their opinions, and people have a right to choose who represents them.”

Voters in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District will very likely send a Democrat to Congress next year. That choice will be made in this year’s primary.

Early voting in North Carolina runs until 3 p.m. Saturday. Election Day for the North Carolina primaries is May 17.

If no candidate wins more than 30% of the vote, the primary would go to a runoff election on July 26.



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Campaigning for North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District: Clay Aiken hopes to address gerrymandering, college debt, district growth




Campaigning for North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District: Clay Aiken hopes to address gerrymandering, college debt, district growth

Aiken is one of 10 candidates in their race vying for votes in North Carolina’s primary elections on May 17

By Ellis Chandler | 5/15/22 11:55pm


Clay Aiken

After making a name for himself on national television almost 20 years ago, Clay Aiken is now using his platform to make a different kind of positive impact— running for a representative seat in the state he’s always called home.

The North Carolina native is running for the House of Representatives in North Carolina’s 4th congressional district, containing Alamance, Durham, Granville, Orange and Person counties. The primary is set for May 17, 2022. Registered North Carolina voters can vote by mail, early in-person or on the primary election date.

Aiken previously ran for a seat in the 2nd congressional district in 2014. His reason for running then and now was gerrymandering.

“I have the ability to get people to pay attention to issues when I talk about them, not only locally, very much locally, but also kind of nationally, too,” Aiken said.

The district lines were finalized 24 hours before filing opened for candidates. Aiken said it did not change the partisan tilt, but the area did change geographically. He said not knowing district lines was a big challenge for all candidates.

Having incumbency or a large platform are the two ways Aiken believes one can have any sort of influence or power in Congress. When he looked at who was running in his home state this year, he knew that a first-term member wouldn’t bring attention to the 4th district like he thinks is needed. 

“When we're fast growing, we're busting at the seams,” Aiken said. “People are getting priced out of their homes. The job market is great for some people, but not great for others in this area. It's not a good time to lose the attention that we need from the federal government in this area to be able to have that platform and bring it here was something that I thought was incredibly important, something I knew that I could do.”

Aiken said he benefitting this time around because he already has the knowledge of what it’s like to run, and now he wants to focus on getting residents in rural areas of the district to “see Democrats as a party that helps them in their lives.”

According to Aiken, policies like raising the minimum wage and taking advantage of state unemployment benefits help everyone, not just those in certain positions or who vote a certain way.

College debt is also something that Aiken wants to fix. He doesn’t want to limit it to just private and public four-year schools — he wants to make community college and trade schools more affordable and accessible too. 

“We need to completely cancel any interest on student debt existing, and we need to make college loans interest-free in the future, all the time, forever,” Aiken said. “There's no reason that anyone, banks or the federal government should be making money off of kids going to college and bettering their lives.”

Aiken said he’d also be completely in favor of canceling certain portions of college debt up to a limit, not because he doesn’t want to cancel as much debt as possible, but rather because there are people who don’t have college debt because their career paths didn’t require it and are still struggling financially. He said a possible solution would be to provide an equal benefit, like a tax credit, to those who are struggling to make ends meet without college debt because their careers did not require college. 

In terms of other issues, Aiken also supports stopping climate change, systemic racism, income inequality and gun violence. He’s in favor of securing voting rights, free health care, and a woman’s right to choose. Aiken said he wants to give a voice to those looking to “bring sanity and civility back to the political conversation.”

As for running in his childhood district, he said it’s a great opportunity.

“It’s home to me,” Aiken said. “This one has been a lot even more enjoyable for me because I've been able to be running right here, where I am, where I've been for my whole life.”



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From one stage to another, Clay Aiken hoping to make name for self in a new arena




From one stage to another, Clay Aiken hoping to make name for self in a new arena

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- In a race featuring candidates varied histories, Clay Aiken's background still manages to stick out.

"Every time I see someone in person, meet someone for the first time in person, that they're so surprised how old I am. Because I think so many people see me as this 24-year-old kid who they saw on TV," Aiken said through chuckles, referring to his time on American Idol in 2003.

His comfortability meeting with people evident even prior to this interview, when he exchanged memories of ABC11's anchor teams through the years with one the station's longest-tenured employees in the lobby before being led down to the studio.

Aiken has sold millions of albums and toured internationally in the nearly two decades since, though he's quick to point out that prior to his appearance on the show, he worked in education.

"Education policy is something I'd like to address. Title 1 is something that funds underprivileged, low-income students in low-income schools. And in some places that program has sort of incentivized districts to create low-income schools. Chapel Hill-Carrboro is not an area that would have any low-income schools if kids were distributed appropriately. But a lot of school systems create low-income schools to get that extra money, and I think Title 1 needs to be reauthorized and revamped to not incentivize school districts to create schools that are high poverty," said Aiken.

He further pointed to better funding Title 2 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which revolves around teacher retention and training.

"Most teachers didn't go in (to teaching) to become rich. They knew what the salary would be when they started. But what they didn't expect is to have to do three people's jobs. So most teachers I talk to are eager to have more support. They don't have a planning period. They don't have the ability to communicate with parents the way they want to. To work one on one with kids. So a national program that encourages people to become teacher assistants, para-professionals in that way. And then help create a pathway for those teacher assistants to go into becoming teachers," said Aiken, who started out as a teacher's assistant.

He's the lone candidate in the race to win a congressional primary, which he narrowly did in 2014 before losing to Renee Elmers in the state's second district.

Eight years later, he's running again, hoping his advocacy and name recognition will help make up for a lack of political experience.

"That's one thing I've been able to do for the past 19 years when it comes to issues with UNICEF or children with special-needs. I want to be able to use that voice, that platform to bring attention here to the district. Because we're losing (retiring Rep. David Price) whose had such an impact, and no first-term member of Congress who goes in is going to have that ability to do that except for me," said Aiken.

Aiken serves as Chairman and Co-Founder of The National Inclusion Project, which partners with community organizations to provide training and resources to enhance opportunities for children with disabilities.

"After (American) Idol, talking about (inclusivity), turned into this big snowball almost that kind of created this organization. Because having this platform from the show made people listen. They paid attention when I was talking about something, they recognized there was an issue people weren't addressing," Aiken said. The organization's initial plan was to operate on a local and statewide level, but it has expanded to programs in three dozen states.

In hopes of continuing Price's legacy, he pointed to the need to address affordable housing, in areas like east Durham and the Bethesda and Oak Grove communities, through the ability of securing resources and funding on a federal level.

"If there were affordable housing specifically set aside, then prices would also come down. But we need to make sure that we're cracking down on some of the more predatory corporations that are buying up a lot of stock. We've seen some companies decided to pull out of the market because of pressure, but there are still others in the area that are selling, buying up the houses in the market, holding onto them, and then manipulating the prices. And I think there should be some federal programs that are designed to crack down on that type of predatory behavior too," Aiken said.

Like many other Democrats in the state, Aiken supported a push for renewable energy sources, pointing to work Rep. Deborah Ross is undertaking on off-shore wind energy, hoping incentives to both consumers and companies could be useful in this regard.

"It's not about the company, it's about protecting the environment, reducing our dependence on foreign oil. So absolutely we need to extend those rebates," said Aiken, referring to rebates offered to electric vehicle owners, which includes himself.

Aiken's campaign site notes his support to "create research and development partnerships with like-minded notions to collaborate on future innovation and set standards and norms for new technologies, like artificial intelligence, 5G, green energy storage, and cryptocurrencies." However, cryptocurrency has received pushback from many scientists over its energy usage.

Aiken, who said he did not own cryptocurrency, also admitted he does not fully understand it. He noted his introduction came on a professional level overseas when he was offered cryptocurrency as payment for a performance; when he looked more into its applicability and usage, specifically in developing nations, he believed the US, and specifically this area - with its tech-heavy industries - could play a key role in becoming a leader in the field.

When asked about concerns over cryptocurrency price swings - Bitcoin has lost more than 50% of its value in six months, and a stablecoin, Terra, lost nearly all of its value, Aiken again acknowledged not knowing enough on the subject, though believed further regulations are necessary in the sector.

"I'm always worried about lack of regulations that anyone to become a billionaire overnight almost at times. And not be able to pay into the system as they should. We know some people have become crypto-billionaires, moved off-shore, moved away, to avoid the tax regulations here. Absolutely we've got the regulation tightened and under control. But the first thing we've got to do is understand it. And I'll be the first person to say I don't completely understand it, and I don't think most people in this district or even country quite understand it, and that scares me. Because we've seen that happen with technology as well," said Aiken.

In a somewhat unusual move, less than a week until Election Day, Aiken and fellow candidate Dr. Ashley Ward held a joint press conference in Durham to discuss concerns over campaign finances, specifically outside money being spent in what's largely considered a safe, Democratic seat.

"I'd like to move to a public finance system for congressional candidates, because there are a lot of congressional candidates who don't have the resources of these Super PAC's, who don't have the donor lists, who don't have the blessings that I have to have name recognition to get into the race. And some of those are some of the best candidates that we have available," said Aiken.

While he referenced a chart that noted contributions given to both Republicans and Democrats, he made more pointed comments during an interview with ABC11, specifically about fellow candidate, State Senator Valerie Foushee, who has received combined millions from two super PAC's.

"It is almost embarrassing that Democrats don't know how to practice what we preach," said Aiken, who noted while he had respected Foushee for a long time, believed spending in the race was at a "disgusting level."

If elected, Aiken would make history as the first openly LGBTQ Congressperson from the South. While saying he would be "incredibly proud" to so, adding he hoped fellow openly LGTBQ candidate Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who is running in NC-11, would also join him, much like in 2014, he emphasized he is not a one-issue candidate.

"To me I feel like as Democrats, we've got to focus on issues that affect 85-100% of people. We have to continue to focus on civil rights, equal rights for everyone, that the right to vote is protected for everyone. We've got to make sure that Roe v. Wade, if it's overturned, that we've fought back against it, and provided access to women to have safe abortions. But I do find that sometimes we double-down on identity politics perhaps more than I think we should. And I think that benefits Republicans more than anything else. Because those are the issues they want us talking about," said Aiken.

When questioned on his lack of political experience, Aiken said he did not seek lower-level office, which two of his main challengers, Foushee and former Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, have both held.

"Efficacy is relative. It has a lot more to do with being able to bring attention to issues. Passing bills is a part of the job. Voting is a big part of the job. But another big part of the job is bringing attention to the issues of your area, to making sure that people in Congress and around the country know what's necessary in Durham, in Burlington, in Orange County," Aiken said.

He believes his extensive worldwide travel has also provided insight into humanitarian issues, as he explained his support for the Biden Administration's decision to increase the refugee cap.

"We do need to be more empathetic, and welcome in people who are living in conditions that are dangerous for them. Welcome in more when we can, because they add to the economy. They're typically the hardest-working, most productive members of society. But we do make sure that we keep the country safe, and we do have to make sure we're doing the appropriate vetting process before letting people in," Aiken said.

Aiken stressed the importance of bipartisanship and finding common ground when possible.

"We're struggling to understand that you don't have to set your hair on fire to affect change. And sometimes reaching across the aisle is not about compromising but it's about finding places where you agree," Aiken said.

Through early voting, the state's second district has drawn the second-most votes in the state, with Aiken finding "there's a lot more energy than even I expected" in what's considered a safe seat. Still, he wanted to encourage voters to closely study the candidates.

"Primaries in these dark-blue races are more important because they allow us to define who we are as a party. As a Democrat, I'll say this - we see what Republicans do when they get a safe, red seat. They give us somebody like Madison (Cawthorn) in Western North Carolina or Marjorie (Taylor Greene) in Georgia. And they define their party that way. And that's who they become. We have a chance to define our party too."

Note: Clay Aiken has previously provided live coverage of the Raleigh Christmas Parade for ABC 11. This reporter did not cover the event, and had not interviewed Clay prior to this election.



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Ex-American Idol star Clay Aiken loses Democratic primary in North Carolina's 4th Congressional District




Ex-American Idol star Clay Aiken loses Democratic primary in North Carolina's 4th Congressional District

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza


Clay Aiken speaks during Politicon in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2019.
Clay Aiken speaks during Politicon in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2019. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Politicon)


Clay Aiken, widely known for his stint on "American Idol," has lost the Democratic primary race in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, CNN projects.

Aiken will finish behind state Sen. Valerie Foushee, the projected nominee, as well as Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam in the race to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. David Price. 

While running, the former reality television star highlighted issues like income equality, access to health care and climate change while promising to focus on infrastructure and inflation if elected.

Millions of dollars were spent in the race and Foushee, for her part, benefited from spending by Protect Our Future, the super PAC funded by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, and the United Democracy Project. 

Aiken previously ran to represent North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District in 2014. He lost to Republican incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers.



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Clay Aiken returns to Pittsburgh for CLO's quirky Drowsy Chaperone




Clay Aiken returns to Pittsburgh for CLO's quirky Drowsy Chaperone

By Jordana Rosenfeld

Clay Aiken in Pittsburgh CLO's The Drowsy Chaperone - PHOTO: MATT POLK
Photo: Matt Polk
Clay Aiken in Pittsburgh CLO's The Drowsy Chaperone

The theater is dark. A voice from the stage addresses the waiting audience.

“I hate theater."

So starts The Drowsy Chaperone at Pittsburgh CLO. The voice belongs to the protagonist, an unnamed character who appears in the script only as “Man in Chair.” The theater remains dark for a good two more minutes as we listen to our narrator, a serious devotee of the stage, share his frustration with the mediocrity of today’s musical theater.

It’s an ironic way to start a contemporary musical, made even more curious by the fact that our host is played here by 2003 American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken, a famous singer performing in a notably non-singing role. (Aiken was first slated to star in the Pittsburgh production in 2021 before the CLO was forced to cancel its original season line-up.)

When the lights come up on Man in Chair’s apartment, he’s settling into a night at home in his oversized beige cardigan, feeling “a bit blue,” and seeking an escape from reality. Our host turns to one of his favorite records (“yes, records.”), introducing Drowsy’s show-within-the-show of the same name, “Gable and Stein’s The Drowsy Chaperone, remember?,” a 1928 musical romp full of “mixups, mayhem, and a gay wedding.”

Pittsburgh CLO's The Drowsy Chaperone  - PHOTO: MATT POLK
Photo: Matt Polk
Pittsburgh CLO's The Drowsy Chaperone

“Of course, that phrase has a different meaning now,” Aiken, who came out as gay in 2008, jokes, “but back then it just meant fun. And that’s just what this show is, fun.” He puts on the record and literally brings the show to life inside his bland but spacious apartment, with actors emerging from the fridge and luxurious Murphy beds folding down from the walls, among other clever ways J. Branson’s set moves the story to several different spaces including the sky above Rio de Janeiro without leaving Man in Chair’s studio apartment.

Starting off as the friend who is so excited for you to see their favorite show that they can hardly stop watching you watch it, it gradually becomes clear that Aiken’s character’s delight as the show unfolds in his apartment is actually the best part. His frequent interjections provide background on the cast of fictional Vaudeville and Hollywood stars playing the show’s characters and trace his character’s engagement with the show and its themes over time. He takes a fairly straightforward plot with flat characters and embellishes it with details that contextualize and critique the performances they frame.

Actually, The Drowsy Chaperone is not a forgotten relic of the Broadway boom of the late 1920s, but a Canadian musical from the late 1990s with a 21st-century sensibility written by songwriting partners Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison as a wedding present to their friends Bob Martin and Janet van der Graaf. (Bob Martin went on to join the project and originated the role of Man in Chair in the show’s 2006 Broadway run.)

The Drowsy Chaperone, the play-within-the-play, focuses on the impending nuptials of Robert Martin (Ashley Day), a handsome son of an oil tycoon, and Janet van der Graaf (Katie Mariko Murray), a former celebrity showgirl who is preparing to “give up a life of glamor to tie the knot.”

Pittsburgh CLO's The Drowsy Chaperone  - PHOTO: MATT POLK
Photo: Matt Polk
Pittsburgh CLO's The Drowsy Chaperone

Robert and Janet are surrounded by a cast of quirky stock characters with their own agendas including Janet’s boss, Feldzieg (Major Attaway) who needs to stop the wedding if he’s going to keep Janet as his leading lady, Janet’s titular chaperone (Paige Davis) who wants to get drunk and get laid, and Aldolpho (Chris Hoch), a bombastic Spaniard who Feldzieg pays to seduce the bride.

CLO’s production also features the legendary Donna McKechnie as Mrs. Tottendale, the rich, goofy, forgetful woman throwing the wedding. McKechnie is best known for her Tony Award-winning performance in the original cast of A Chorus Line, and although her role here doesn’t give her much to work with, I was still excited to see her perform live.

The production design rises to meet Man in Chair’s demand for an enthralling escape into the Roaring Twenties. The characters’ opulent dresses and dressing gowns, designed by the show’s original Broadway costumer Gregg Barnes with Isabel Rubio, pop against the neutral color palette of Man in Chair’s apartment. There’s still plenty of visual interest in the show’s neutral coloring, however, with chaotically clashing earth-toned patterns for two gangsters pretending to be pastry chefs, who are played with first-rate precision by brothers Parker and Blakely Slaybaugh.

A lighthearted, wittily self-referential script by Bob Martin and Don McKellar ties together catchy and emotive songs to structure a 100-minute reprieve from “this dismal little world in which we live,” as the Chaperone herself puts it.


Pittsburgh CLO presents The Drowsy Chaperone. Continues through Sun., June 26. Benedum Center. 237 Seventh St., Downtown. $29-90. pittsburghclo.org


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