Clay Aiken is officially the Democratic nominee for the second congressional district in North Carolina, but now faces a tougher race against Republican incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers.
The Associated Press called Aiken the winner of the Democratic primary today after all nine counties in the congressional district certified their results. Aiken led his opponent, textile entrepreneur Keith Crisco, who died Monday while the votes were still being counted, by just 390 votes. The final count showed Aiken with 40.86 percent to Crisco who came in with 39.49 percent.
Aiken, 35, may be getting a lot of attention thanks to his 2003 American Idol runner up status, as well as by the death of his Democratic rival Keith Crisco this week while votes were still being counted.
But the chances of victory are considered to be slim. Mitt Romney won the district 58 percent to 41 over President Obama, a wider margin than Romney won the state overall, which was 50 percent to 48 percent.
“This is a midterm election when a lot of core Democratic voters including young people and minorities stay home opposed to core Republican voters who happen to be white and older,” North Carolina State University political science professor Stephen Greene told ABC News. “It is really tough for any Democrat to win this district, especially this year.”
Ellmers, 50, has held the seat for two terms and is popular with the Tea Party. She was elected in the 2010 conservative wave that gave Republicans the majority in the House. It’s likely Republicans could try and use Aiken’s celebrity against him, but Greene says his higher name recognition than a traditional Democratic challenger will “absolutely” help.
“It’s tough for any Democrat, but the truth is your typical challenger in a race like this is a weak challenger. An ambitious politician doesn’t take on lost causes,” Greene said. “Someone that obviously has name recognition and fundraising ability is unusual.”
Aiken has a better shot of bringing in national Democratic funds, but Greene still puts the race as a difficult one for Aiken. A traditional Democratic challenger would have about a “2 or 3 percent chance,” Greene said. He gives Aiken has about a “10 to 15 percent chance.”
Greene said the challenge for Aiken is to turn out the traditional Democratic constituencies like young people and minorities in a midterm year.
“To me the big thing is that in a midterm election in a Republican district most Democrats are not ever going to have a chance and Clay Aiken gives them a chance,” Greene said. “It’s still a small chance and nowhere near a 50 -50, but it gives Democrats a much bigger chance than anybody else.”
Even with such daunting odds, Aiken can come ahead in his political debut, even if he doesn’t win. He can start to look more like a political player and less like a failed reality star.
“I don’t think politicians run races to lose,” Greene said. If Aiken loses in November, but has a “good showing, he could try again in 2016″ when there is a more “favorable electorate with a presidential election” and higher Democratic turnout.
The counties were only certified votes today because they were counting absentee ballots that had until Monday to come in, as well as checking provisional ballots for their authenticity and counting those as well. Once all nine counties in the district finished certifying votes, Aiken’s lead had grown from the 369 votes he led with on Election Night to 390 votes.
The North Carolina Board of Elections won’t officially call the race for a victor until next week because they give a two week break in case a recount or a run-off is needed. A recount would only have been triggered if the vote spread between the candidates was less than one percent, and his current margin remains larger than that one percent difference. A candidate would also have to call for a re-count, which will not happen now because of textile entrepreneur Keith Crisco’s death.