Clay Aiken’s opponent in the Democratic primary for North Carolina’s Second Congressional District seat, Keith Crisco, died today, according to the company he owned, Asheboro Elastics Corporation.
The 71-year-old textile entrepreneur and former state commerce secretary died at his home around 1:30 p.m., the company said. He had fallen, a spokesperson for the company told ABC News, but no other information was immediately available.
In a statement, Aiken said he was “stunned and deeply saddened by Keith Crisco’s death” adding he was “suspending all campaign activities as we pray for his family and friends.”
“Keith came from humble beginnings. No matter how high he rose –- to Harvard, to the White House and to the Governor’s Cabinet –- he never forgot where he came from,” Aiken said. “He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him.”
At the time of his death, the race was still too close to call. Aiken was leading Crisco by just 369 votes and on Tuesday the votes are scheduled to be officially certified. The two were locked in a battle to take on incumbent GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers. In a statement, Ellmers said she was “deeply saddened by this sudden and painful tragedy and wish God's blessings for Keith's family through the coming days.”
The North Carolina State Board of Elections also released a statement saying they were saddened to hear of Crisco’s unexpected passing.
“A native of North Carolina, we are grateful for Mr. Crisco’s service to our state and his community through the years,” the statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Crisco family during this difficult time."
The Asheboro, North Carolina, police department said Crisco was dead by the time emergency responders arrived. They would not immediately give any other details, including a cause of death.
Joshua Lawson, spokesman for the state Board of Elections, said that the vote certification process in North Carolina does not change because of Crisco’s death since it is prescribed by statute. The vote certification process will continue as scheduled on Tuesday and if the absentee ballots or voting errors put Crisco ahead of Aiken then the district executive committee of the Democratic Party would choose the nominee.