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North Carolina Second Congressional District Democratic candidates debate at ABC11

The three Democrats hoping to unseat Republican incumbent Representative Renee Ellmers
May 3, 2014 7:53:32 AM PDT
The three Democrats hoping to unseat Republican incumbent Representative Renee Ellmers in North Carolina's Second Congressional District debated in the ABC11 Durham studios Friday afternoon.

Clay Aiken, Keith Crisco and Toni Morris are all seeking the Democratic nomination in the May 6 primary.

Clay Aiken

Born and raised in North Carolina, Aiken is known to almost everyone as the American Idol singing contest runner up in 2003. But in addition to his recordings and acting, he is also the co-founder of The National Inclusion Project - a non-profit dedicated to promoting the inclusion of children with disabilities in activities with their non-disabled peers.

In 2004, he was appointed a national ambassador for UNICEF and traveled to Indonesia to raise awareness of the need to restore education quickly for the children who survived the tsunami.

In 2006, Aiken was appointed to the presidential committee for people with intellectual disabilities by President George W. Bush.

It is Aiken's first run for public office.

Keith Crisco

Keith Crisco was also born and raised in North Carolina. He graduated from Pfeiffer University with a BA in mathematics and physics and received a master of business administration from Harvard University.    

In 1970 and 71, he served as a White House fellow with a position of Assistant to the US Secretary of Commerce. In 1978, Crisco became the president of Stedman Elastics in Asheboro. He has served on the Asheboro City Council.

In 2009, he was appointed as Secretary of Commerce for North Carolina and served until 2013. Crisco is also a member of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health Advisory Council.

He has also served as board chair for Bennett College and the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research.

Toni Morris

Toni Morris is a licensed professional counselor who provides services to children, adolescents and adults. She received her bachelor's degree in sociology from Rutgers University.

She has master's degree in mental health counseling from Webster University and is currently working on her PhD dissertation in educational psychology at Walden University.

Morris is the membership chair for the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Black Leadership Caucus, as well as a member of the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Human Relations Commission

Morris also ran for the Second District Democratic nomination in 2012. She is a licensed professional counselor who provides services to children, adolescents and adults.

The Debate

From the beginning of Friday's debate, all three candidates focused on the dysfunction in Washington.

"We need to put aside partisan attacks and start focusing on the needs of the people in the districts we serve," Aiken offered.

The trio was asked about a frequent topic in Washington partisan bickering: the Affordable Care Act.

"We need to give it time to work. The benefit of it is we have many more people covered now who were not covered before," said Morris.

Aiken said the tenants of the law are sound, but he'd like to see it go further to help small businesses.

Crisco said some form of healthcare reform is essential, as healthcare costs currently absorb 20 percent of the gross national product.

"We need to move forwards and own this act and make it work for our citizens," he said.

On the issue of immigration reform, Aiken said he supports the Dream Act and believes the idea of shipping every illegal immigrant home would be too expensive, not fiscally responsible, and would damage the economy. He said he supports some kind of path to citizenship combined with a strong border.

"We need to do a better job of implementing the policies we have in place," said Morris - saying the work visa program should work more smoothly.

On the issue of minimum wage, all three candidates said they're in favor of raising it to $10.10 an hour. Aiken pointed out the increase would only take a person working 40 hours a week to just over the federal poverty level.

Crisco said we can afford it.

"We can be competitive in a world economy with that increase," he said.

Morris said she understands the concerns of small business about the increase, but said if Congress was doing its job creating jobs, then the improving economy would solve the problem.

All three candidates said they support greater gun control. Morris said she's tired of seeing headlines about mass killings in schools and on military bases.

Aiken said he's from a family of gun owners, and supports the right of responsible people to own guns that is protected in the Constitution.

"Gun controls do not infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners," he said.

All three candidates were asked if they win the nomination, could they rally both Democrats and Republicans in the mostly Republican 2nd District to defeat Ellmers.

"I am the only Democrat who can win this seat," offered Crisco - citing his bipartisan record.

Aiken said Ellmers is part of the problem in Washington and voters in the district can see that.

"We are all Americans and North Carolinians who want to see action in Washington," he said.

Friday's debate will be broadcast Sunday at 10 a.m. on ABC11.

The primary is May 6. Representative Ellmers faces challenger Frank Roche for the Republican nomination.

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