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Elections 2014: Keith Crisco, congressional opponent to Clay Aiken, dies

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The North Carolina congressional race involving “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken saw an unexpected development on Monday as Aiken’s Democratic opponent, Keith Crisco, has died.

Asheboro Elastics Corporation, a company Crisco owned, said the former state commerce secretary died in his home after a fall Monday afternoon and had passed away before emergency responders arrived. He was 71.

Aiken offered his condolences after hearing the news, calling Crisco “a gentleman, a good and honorable man, and an extraordinary public servant.” He also announced he would be temporarily suspending campaign activities. The North Carolina State Board of Elections released a statement as well, saying the board was “grateful for Mr. Crisco’s service to our state and his community through the years.”

A North Carolina native, Crisco was born to a farming family and studied science at the state’s Pfeiffer University before earning his MBA from Harvard. His previous political experience includes time as a White House Fellow and a year in the Commerce Department under Richard Nixon.

Crisco’s passing comes just a day before election officials were scheduled to see whether a runoff election would be necessary after last week’s primary. According to the LA Times, the race was too close to call and had Aiken leading Crisco by a slim 369 votes, making up 40.8 percent of the vote. North Carolina election rules dictate that a runoff will be required if no candidate reaches 40 percent of the vote.

Since Crisco had not yet conceded, he would have had the opportunity to request a recount if the final margin was within one percentage point, a possibility the state’s Democratic Party said was “anticipated.” Officials will still go through the vote certification process as scheduled on Tuesday. Should the process and final count put Crisco ahead of Aiken, the party’s district executive committee would then choose another nominee to run for the seat in North Carolina’s second congressional district.

The winner will then face off against the incumbent, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R), who also released a statement saying she was “deeply saddened by this sudden and painful tragedy and wish[es] God's blessings for Keith's family through the coming days.”

Crisco is survived by his wife, Jane, of 49 years, as well as three children and six grandchildren.

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