North Carolina Congressional candidate Keith Crisco, who was locked in a tight challenge with Clay Aiken for the Democratic nomination, died suddenly at his home on Monday, WNCN-TV confirmed.
A woman at his company, Asheboro Elastics Corp. in Asheboro, confirmed that he died at his home Monday around 1 p.m. She said employees at the company were being told what had happened.
“It is true,” she said. “But we don’t have any details. They wanted his employees to know.”
The Asheboro Courier-Tribune reported that he died in a fall at his home. There were less than 400 votes separating Crisco and Aiken after Tuesday’s Democratic primary contest in the Republican-leaning 2nd Congressional District.
“I am stunned and deeply saddened by Keith Crisco’s death,” Aiken said in a statement. “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.
“He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him. I am suspending all campaign activities as we pray for his family and friends.”
Crisco, a successful Asheboro businessman and later secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce, had faced Aiken in a tense battle for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District.
Aiken was credited with 11,649 votes, Crisco 11,277 and Toni Morris of Fayetteville 5,599.
Crisco, 71, had refused to concede the election, and the Board of Elections was scheduled to have a voter canvass on Tuesday. The State Board of Elections sent out a news release expressing that it was saddened to hear he died, but did not say what happens next in the election.
If the canvas shows Aiken had the most votes and at least a 40 percent margin, however, the point is moot and Aiken will face Ellmers.
However, well-known Raleigh political consultant Brad Crone said he had spoken with Crisco earlier Monday and Crisco planned to concede.
“At his instruction, I had called Gary Pearce to convey that Keith was going to concede the election tomorrow morning and would be calling Mr. Aiken to congratulate him,” Crone wrote in an email.
“I have known Keith for nearly 30 years and consider him a good friend. He has done a great deal for his community and his state. I will miss his insights and his wry sense of humor and his keen mind for math and statistics.
“Keith Crisco was a man full of honor, character and integrity — I had great respect for him and will sorely miss him as a friend and counsel.”
Crisco was raised on a dairy farm near Aquadale. He graduated from Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer in 1964 and got his masters in business administration from Harvard in 1968.
He worked for Burlington Industries, then a textile giant, for years before becoming president of Stedman Elastics from 1978-86. From 1986, he became president of Asheboro Elastics Corp.
Crisco had been heavily involved in civic activities through-out his life, including a stint on the Asheboro City Council.
Gary Bartlett, former head of the State Board of Elections, said if Crisco were to have more votes than Aiken after the canvass, they would declare a vacancy and the Democratic Party executive committee for District 2 would meet and pick the candidate. In that case, it could be Aiken.