America's second-favorite American Idol contestant from the show's second season is apparently thinking about running for Congress in North Carolina's 2nd District. If he does, he'll come in second.
According to the Washington Blade, Aiken has been exploring the idea of launching a campaign for the seat that largely covers an area on the outskirts of Raleigh. It's currently represented by Rep. Renee Ellmers, who took office in 2011. The Blade reports that Aiken "talked to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and has met with figures in Raleigh" about running. He's also been working with a regional strategist and apparently met with a pollster in Washington.
We can save him a bit of time and money on that poll. Ellmers is new to Congress and almost certainly has lower name recognition than Aiken. But Aiken has a number of strikes against him. (Update: As Aiken may have learned. He apparently indicated that he's not running.)
First and foremost is that between Ellmers' first and second races in the seat, it was redistricted. In 2010, she won a very close race, with a margin of only about 1,500 votes. Then the 2010 Census happened, and the district was re-drawn. In 2012, Ellmers won by 14 percentage points, with a 46,000-vote margin. And that was in an election in which the presidential race brought more people — and almost certainly more Democrats — to the polls. For any Democrat, a 2014 race against a Republican incumbent in a race that Cook Political Report deems a "solid Republican" seat would be an uphill climb.
But Aiken isn't any old candidate. He is also an openly gay man who would be running in a (politically) conservative area. In 2012, Gallup polled Americans to gauge their willingness to embrace a presidential candidate from one of a number of minority groups. Thirty percent of respondents said they would not support a gay candidate for the presidency. Only 56 percent of Republicans said they would consider such a candidate — meaning that almost half would not. These are national numbers that apply to a presidential candidate, but, for a candidate that would need to pick up votes in a Republican-leaning district, that sort of obstacle could be prohibitive. (An April 2013 poll suggested that support for gay marriage in the state was heavily split along partisan lines as well, indicating that the national Gallup poll may reflect opinions in North Carolina.)
One of the biggest reasons that Aiken likely wouldn't win is that celebrity is no guarantee of political success. When Ashley Judd was considering running for the Senate in Kentucky, the Washington Post looked at previous celebrity excursions, determining that the "biggest such political wins of the last 15 years all featured the celebrity winning with less than half of the vote in an unusual race." Before that, the celebrity candidates won higher office after having some experience in politics. Aiken would be running in a normal House race with no experience. History suggests that this is not a recipe for success — political persuasion notwithstanding.
So why is Aiken even thinking about it, assuming the Blade report is correct? Perhaps because, as an AP poll out on Thursday indicates, everyone thinks they can do a better job in Congress than the sitting member of the House. Fifty-four percent of respondents to the AP poll said they would do a better job than their sitting member of Congress. Aiken has the money and time to actually think about giving that a shot.
The best investment of that time and money that Aiken could make in order to win a seat in Congress would be on a moving van. But even that would probably be a bad investment.