The first chapter of Clay Aiken's long-shot bid to join Congress had a storybook finish Wednesday as the former "American Idol" star appeared to have won the Democratic Party nomination by fewer than 400 votes.
Neither Aiken nor the favored candidate among some Democrats, Keith Crisco, the state's former commerce secretary, was quick to claim victory -- or defeat. A dispute could force a July 15 runoff. But Aiken appeared to have barely cleared the 40% threshold needed, according to the state Board of Election. The tally was a squeaker: 40.85% to 39.54%.
If so, the real race begins. Aiken faces an even tougher climb in the suburban Raleigh district where he grew up, which has been drawn specifically to elect a Republican.
Rep. Renee Ellmers won the seat from a Democrat in 2010 on a tea party wave; a favorite within her own party, the Republican is heavily favored to win.
But experts were not quick to count the "Golden Ticket" winner out after his swift rise to fame and compelling personal story as an openly gay entertainer from a rough-and-tumble upbringing in North Carolina.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report called Aiken not only "persuasive and politically realistic" when its editors met with him earlier in the campaign cycle, but "just as comfortable" discussing the intricacies of the sweeping 2nd Congressional District he calls home.
That said, others have suggested Aiken ran a less than stellar campaign, failing to bring in big money to run the effort. Some Democrats thought Crisco would do better in a general election than a newcomer who could be tagged as a product of Hollywood.