This story has been corrected regarding Toni Morris' finish in the 2012 primary.
Republican Renee Ellmers, the incumbent, is preferable to her tea-party challenger, Frank Roche. That's not saying much. Ellmers is best known for insisting that, though she opposed the federal government providing health insurance to ordinary citizens, she was taking it for herself, as a member of Congress, because otherwise health insurance would be so expensive. Later, when the Republicans shut down the government, she wanted to be paid anyway because while other federal employees might have to go without, she needed her check. That was so dumb Ellmers took it back a day later.
Ellmers has said a sensible thing or two about immigration reform, probably because businesses in her district—farms, especially—rely on undocumented labor. Strident opposition to reform—and to the Federal Reserve—is the backbone of Roche's challenge.
This district was drawn by Republicans to elect a Republican—the Democrat nominee will start at a big disadvantage. But it's not insurmountable if the Democrat is as well known and well-liked as Clay Aiken, the Raleigh native who burst into national prominence a decade ago on TV's American Idol. Aiken proved to be an excellent singer. He was also a credit to Raleigh's reputation for having nice people.
Before he was Clay Aiken the star, Aiken was a special education teacher. As a star, Aiken raised money and awareness for special-needs children through the Bubel/Aiken Foundation—Diane Bubel, the mother of an autistic child he tutored, convinced him to try out for Idol—later renamed the National Inclusion Project. He's been a UNICEF ambassador and a gay rights activist in show-business groups and the Human Rights Campaign. Aiken is gay. He's serious about politics, and he's mounted a strong campaign, especially with younger Democrats. He's endorsed by the N.C. Association of Educators.
Aiken's chief opponent, Keith Crisco, is 70—literally twice Aiken's age. Crisco is a smart, successful businessman who employs 200 people in his Asheboro textile company. He was Gov. Bev Perdue's secretary of commerce. But Crisco has pledged, if elected, to serve just three terms in Congress, an acknowledgement that his age is against him as a first-time candidate for the House.
Democrats in N.C. need new candidates with a fresh appeal. Aiken fills that bill. Aiken's name on the ticket will be especially helpful in the part of this district that's in Wake County, where other Democrats running will need a strong turnout to defeat Republican incumbents.
Toni Morris finished second in the 2012 Democratic primary for Congress, behinds Steve Wilkins. She is a private therapist who is active in the Junior League of Fayetteville.