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# 67: Everywhere He Goes, The People Love Him!


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Loved the ending. I was feeling so sad throughout the last half and thought it was too late to make me feel anything but sad, but who expected Bill Maher?? Wow. And Clay looked so fabulous on that show. Love it!

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The Runner-Up Episode 4: I Approve This Message

The Runner-Up Episode 4: I Approve This Message

by MIKE MCCOMB • APRIL 29, 2015


The Runner-Up (Photo: Lightbox Entertainment / Esquire)

The season finale of The Runner-Up picks up in the last two weeks of Clay Aiken’s campaign for the second congressional district of North Carolina. Along with the gay marriage issue and iffy/absent support from the DCCC, the North Carolina senate race between democrat Kay Hagan and republic challenger Thom Tillis was dominating political attention. The race was the most expensive in history–more than $100 million spent–and was a determining factor in which party would control the Senate. As a result, the voter turnout was expected to be much, much higher than in most mid-term elections.

As if there wasn’t enough political advertising happening during the Senate campaign, Clay’s campaign was able to scrape together enough nickels for one ad buy. The question: should the ad be positive or negative? Tucker, the communications director, wants to go negative to reiterate how incumbent Renee Ellmers has failed her district. Clay says he would rather do a positive ad, one that promotes why people should vote for him rather than against Ellmers. I think Clay’s instinct is right here: not voting for Ellmers is not the same as voting for Clay, as there is the option of not voting at all. Ellen is the tie-breaker and the campaign decides to go negative. Here’s the ad:

The other problem with doing a negative campaign: accusations will be scrutinized. The group FactCheck.org contacted Tucker shortly after the ad aired to follow the logic trail of some of their claims.That did not work in the campaign’s favor.

Election day arrives and Clay heads to his polling station as the last stop of his bus tour. Unfortunately, the real last stop was a mile or so from the station, as the bus stalled out on the road. Sad trombone. As the votes come in, there is about five minutes when Clay is in the lead before the rest of the mostly-republican district gave Ellmers another term as their representative.

It would be easy to say that Aiken was over his head, or that his ad was a misfire, or the inability to fundraise was what caused him to lose. I disagree, and suspect that had his primary opponent Keith Crisco advanced1 the outcome would have been the same. Perhaps not as lopsided as the 59/41 outcome, but certainly not a win for the democrat. The incumbency advantage is real and nearly impossible to overcome. Had this been an open seat race, Aiken or Crisco may have stood a chance. However, it comes down to acting like an incumbent, which is antithetical to the “new voice in Washington” campaign Aiken was trying to run.

Although it was nine months of hard work, uncomfortable situations, and a less-than-ideal outcome, I’m glad Aiken agreed to participate in this documentary. If you haven’t checked in with The Runner-Up, you should take an afternoon and watch it.

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Here's the interview. I believe the typos have been corrected.

It can be difficult to take Clay Aiken seriously. He's best known as the spiky-haired red-head, who lost to Ruben Studdard on "American Idol" in 2004 -- yeah, remember him? -- and then went on to sing about feeling "Invisible" and be the butt of lazy Kathy Griffin jokes. But he insists running for congress is not some sort of publicity stunt. It's just how he's using the microphone now.

To his fans, it may seem strange that Aiken would give up singing. As he sees it, fame was never part the plan. Growing up, he thought he might like to be a teacher or assistant principal. "I didn’t really want to be a principal," he told The Huffington Post Entertainment. "I liked the assistant principal thing." Of course, that was long before being a public figure became what he calls his "new normal."

Aiken only seriously started thinking about a political career in 2010. Frustrated with the gerrymandering in his home state of North Carolina, he started toying with the idea of running for congress. He wasn't truly convinced it was the right move until a friend pushed him to use his name for change.

"Who was the friend?" I asked him.

"Oh, it was Roseanne Barr," he responded, totally casual.

Barr is another celebrity-cum-politician whose efforts have been chronicled in documentary form this year. Aiken was hesitant to take on a docu-series for Esquire in association with his campaign, until he realized an inevitable benefit of the film-making process. The point of running was to use his name to spread his ideas, and whether he wins or loses, his role in "The Runner Up" will be a way to do just that.

"I think I realized over the years that sometimes being in Congress is less effective than not being in Congress," he said.

Aiken's biggest causes are education and campaign funding. When asked if gay rights were part of his platform, Aiken replied with a diplomatic, "I've gotta run to represent everybody in the district."

He sees two forms of activism as important: advocacy and normalization. "I appreciate those folks like Michelangelo Signorile and Dan Savage, the people who have been the squeaky wheel to get the grease," he said. "But at the same time, you also have to have people who remind us everyday that I’m just like the person next door. In my opinion, Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris Harris have probably been two of the most impactful people when it comes to promoting gay rights ... They allow people to see they're no different than anybody else."

Aiken publicly came out in 2008, when he became a father at age 29. At the time, he felt it was important to set an example for his newborn son, Parker, rather than providing some sort of answer for all the speculation over his sexuality. Now, he leans toward the NPH model of visibility. Although, for the most part, he's given up caring what people think either way.

"Look, I am openly gay," he said. "I don’t think there is anyone in the country, except maybe Stevie Wonder, who can’t figure that out."

The democratic primary was too close to call in May of 2014, when Aiken heard the news that his opponent, Keith Crisco, had died. "I don't think I've ever been speechless, "Aiken says in "The Runner Up," recounting his reaction to Crisco's death. "The phrase mixed emotions, I think I understood it for the first time, because there was a period where I didn't like him."

Aiken went on to face Renee Ellmers in the general election that November, once again finding himself in second place. Now, Aiken is up against Ellmers again and this time he has been quite vocal about not liking his opponent (calling her an "idiot" and a "bitch" on a recent episode of his docu-series.)

"The person who I am running against could not find Bear Creek, North Carolina, with a map with one road on it," he told HuffPost. "She’s never been, she doesn’t know where it is, she doesn’t know where half her constituents live and that’s because they don’t have money to give her."

On "The Runner Up," Aiken is similarly candid, just with more cursing -- way more cursing than we would expect from the Aiken we saw on "Idol" more than ten years ago. He's honest to the point of being blunt and says "f--k" a lot. In a way "The Runner Up" has served to redefine his public perception, as he sets up a political career by revealing a side of himself most politicians might work to hide.

Perhaps, though he's set on leaving it behind, that's where Aiken's background as an entertainer can set him apart. He's dealt with the blows to his reputation, and built a sense of confidence, bolstered by years of exposure to scrutiny. He's lost, "American Idol," "The Apprentice" and his first attempt at congress, but moved far past giving a "f--k" what anyone has to say about him in any of those races. He carries a "what you see is what you get" mentality that could only have been cultivated by his experiences in the spotlight and, with any luck, will bring him victory in this next election.

"Listen, I didn’t necessarily approach my political campaign in a way that was any different than I approached my entertainment career," he said. "Now, I have that microphone. I’ve used it for singing for years, but I sure as hell can use it for something better than that."

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A few tweets from today. Mostly they are bots retweeting the above article.

@AndyJonesSC: Never watched American Idol, so never knew much about @clayaiken but am now a fan. #veryinteresting

@AndyJonesSC: @clayaiken heard you on @HowardStern, really enjoyed your interview, new fan now. Howard is the best interviewer out there period.

@doublerq: @sternshow @clayaiken Just listened to part of the interview seems like a super cool dude great interview!

@BirdsfanBigO: @HowardStern interview with @clayaiken AMAZING. Truly the KING OF ALL MEDIA!!!

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This girl is not a fan.

@ChrysTrenary: Say what you will about Clay Aiken running for congress, I think we could use some one that isn't afraid to say fuck in the spot light.

More tweets

@CatOwnerJournal: I gotta say, the @clayaiken interview with @HowardStern is really, really good. I have a new respect for Mr. Aiken now.

@ajLIMELIGHT: Great interview with @clayaiken, @HowardStern! Found him to be very interesting and funny. #sternshow

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Clay tweeted and some of the tweets.

@clayaiken: Sweet Lord! My FB page makes it incredibly obvious every time there is a re-run of my @sternshow interview.

@gmarshalljr: @clayaiken I wanted to drop you a quick note.I was never a fan.Howard Stern changed that.You were great! I LOL'ed multiple times. Thanks! :)

@TheAndizzo: @SethMacFarlane Clay Aiken wants to bang u....FYI.

@Drugs_R_Cool: @SethMacFarlane : hey did you hear Clay Aiken on the Howard Stern show? Apparently he wants you!!!

@BMacME: The @clayaiken interview is one of the best @HowardStern has ever done. Kudos to both men for a fascinating conversation. @sternshow #Howard

@socaljb869: @HowardStern @clayaiken Just heard the interview!! Great job by both! #kingofallinterviewers

@MarcLaMotte: I know it's late @clayaiken but I finally got to hear your interview w/ @HowardStern. Really enjoyed it.

@RyanFlores79: I've never given much thought to @clayaiken but after his @HowardStern interview I have to say he is very interesting and entertaining.

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Clay tweets.

@clayaiken: My ❤️ is soaring! My faves! RT @MarleeMatlin: #WestWing reunion of President Bartlet & Joey Lucas. LOVE Martin Sheen! http://t.co/N6UDSpXgEP

@newsobserver: Get to know US Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, who announced his bid for the White House today http://t.co/oH9AfDoYic http://t.co/kT2fMVPzbi

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And I'm looking at it now, and I see all kinds of rough edges and such....

But the subject is damn good, isn't it? (Notice I left my word in...heh)

Another dining out experience!

Melba's Restaurant ‏@MelbasHarlem 3m3 minutes ago

What a treat to have @clayaiken dine at #Melbas tonight! Thanks for stopping by, we enjoyed having you!


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And now Clay has replied!

Y'all are AWESOME! RT @MelbasHarlem: What a treat to have @clayaiken dine at #Melbas tonight! Thanks for stopping by, we enjoyed having you!
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