Originally published: May 6, 2014, 10:32 p.m.
Updated: May 7, 2014, 8:49 a.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former “American Idol” contestant Clay Aiken’s Democratic congressional primary remains too close to call, with just hundreds of votes separating him from a chief opponent.
Meanwhile, three other openly gay candidates vying for office across the state lost in their respective primaries on Tuesday. Two of them had fought to gain entry to the North Carolina General Assembly. With their loss, North Carolina’s LGBT community will be without representation in the state legislature.
Aiken has slight lead
Aiken’s 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary is too close to call, reports The Associated Press. Aiken has a slight lead with 40.8 percent and 11,634 votes, only 369 more than Keith Crisco, with 39.54 percent and 11,265 votes.
At an election night party in Holly Springs last night, Aiken said he was confident he would move on to face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in November’s general election.
Gay state candidates passed over
Come next January — for the first time in a decade — no openly LGBT person will be counted among the legislature’s 170 members. The state’s only openly gay member currently, House Rep. Marcus Brandon, isn’t running for reelection.
In Mecklenburg County, openly gay candidate Ty Turner lost his Democratic primary for state Senate District 40. Facing a crowded primary with four other candidates, Turner came in last and carried just 6 percent of the vote with 36 of 48 precincts reporting, according to unofficial results published online by the North Carolina State Board of Elections. The board had experienced computer and reporting glitches earlier in the evening.
The top vote-getter in Turner’s race, Joyce Waddell, received 43 percent of the vote and will be unopposed in November, guaranteeing her a seat when the North Carolina Senate’s next term convenes in January.
At an election watch party in Uptown Charlotte, Turner said he was disappointed in the results, calling it a “tough loss,” but nonetheless heartened by his experience during the campaign.
“I’ve taken five months of my life to really focus on the people,” Turner said. “This is just the beginning. Now it’s up to me to build on that and gain the people’s trust. I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to be one of those individuals who runs for office and disappears.”
In Wake County, openly gay candidate Derek Kiszely garnered only 23 percent of the vote in his Democratic primary for state House District 49, with nearly all precincts reporting. Kiszely’s opponent, Kim Hanchette, carried 77 percent of the vote. She will face Republican Gary Pendleton, who had no Republican opponent on Tuesday, in the general election this November.
Turner’s loss means the state’s estimated 244,000 LGBT citizens won’t have any openly LGBT representation in the North Carolina General Assembly. Even if Kiszley had won his Wake County primary, that district leans Republican with a potential Kiszely general election victory nearly impossible. But, with no November opponent, a Turner primary victory would have guaranteed his seat in the state Senate.
A third option to guarantee LGBT representation had recently come into the hands of local Democratic Party leaders in Mecklenburg County. Last Saturday, 49 members of the county party’s executive committee met to fill a vacant state Senate seat left open when former Sen. Dan Clodfelter stepped down to become Charlotte’s mayor. Twenty-five of those voters chose Gaston County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Jackson, with openly gay Plaza Midwood businessman Billy Maddalon receiving 21 votes.
No LGBT representation
Jen Jones, communications director for statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina, called the election results “bittersweet.” The group is particularly concerned the state will be left without an openly LGBT voice in the legislature.
“While we are heartened by important wins by many of our pro-equality primary picks, look forward to working with our many straight allies at the state legislative level, and will fight for many of these same and similar allies in the 2014 general election,” Jones said in a statement, “we also believe the presence of openly-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state electeds has become absolutely vital in order to reflect and represent the hundreds of thousands of LGBT North Carolinians in the state they call home, not to mention to lend credence to any North Carolina political party pledging a commitment to diversity and inclusivity.”
Jones added, “These 2014 North Carolina primary results make clear that our state must redouble its efforts to recruit and elect LGBT legislative candidates, and our political action committee, Equality NC Action Fund, is committed, where necessary, to take the lead.”
Ryan Butler, a former president and co-founder of the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina, a state Democratic Party caucus, said Tuesday night that Democrats “need to get serious about diversity.”
Mecklenburg Democratic leaders’ rejection of Maddalon, Butler said, was especially concerning.
“What’s happened in Charlotte, that’s been something of particular concern. Charlotte has had the chance to elect two different LGBT candidates and both times, that’s not happened.”
Butler stressed the importance of LGBT inclusion in the General Assembly, especially, he said, in the “wake of Amendment One and some of the really draconian, conservative policies implemented by the General Assembly in the past two years.”
Turner, too, was disappointed in the results for the LGBT community. He called the lack of representation “sad.”
“Now it’s up to us to mobilize over the next couple years,” Turner said. “It takes losses like these for us to step up and stand behind new candidates who want to serve. It is hard to be LGBT and want to actually serve and out yourself in the South and have the courage to go up to some of these groups and talk.”
Butler said Democrats need more awareness and understanding.
“A lot of Democrats are aware, but we need to help people inside our own party become more aware of the importance of having the LGBT community represented in elected office,” he said.
Current state House Rep. Marcus Brandon was among several candidates in the 12th Congressional District primary. Additionally, he was vying in a special election to fulfill former Rep. Mel Watt’s unexpired term for the rest of this year.
With a majority of precincts reporting, Brandon carried just eight percent of the special election vote and seven percent of the main primary. Top-vote getter, Greensboro’s Alma Adams, was registering at about 43 percent in both. Adams will soon be seated in Congress to fulfill former Rep. Mel Watt’s unexpired term. She’ll face Republican challenger Vince Coakley in November, though the heavily Democratic-leaning district will likely favor Adams.
[Ed. Note — The original version of this article reported Alma Adams would have no Republican challenger, which is inaccurate. We have updated the story. We regret the error.]