In a stunning turn of events, North Carolina congressional candidate Keith Crisco, who was locked in a too-close-to-call Democratic primary race with former “American Idol” contestant Clay Aiken, was found dead in his home Monday, according to reports.
Mr. Crisco, 71, suffered injuries in a fall at his home in Asheboro, N.C., around 1 p.m. and was pronounced dead when emergency workers arrived on the scene, according to the Asheboro Courier-Tribune.
The primary election last Tuesday was too close to call, but Mr. Aiken led Mr. Crisco by 369 votes.
They were battling for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Rep. Renee L. Ellmers in the general election.
Mr. Crisco was a prominent businessman and former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
“I am stunned and deeply saddened by Keith Crisco’s death,” Mr. Aiken said in a statement. “He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him.”
He said he had suspended all campaign activity “as we pray for his family and friends.”
Mrs. Ellmers said in a statement: “I am deeply saddened by this sudden and painful tragedy and wish God’s blessings for Keith’s family through the coming days.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what will happen in the Democratic primary, where Mr. Crisco had not yet conceded despite the slight deficit in the early returns. Complicating the race was the fact that Mr. Aiken also barely cleared the 40 percent hurdle needed under party rules to avoid a runoff.
The spokesman and the executive director of the State Board of Elections did not return messages Monday evening.
Mr. Crisco had been North Carolina’s top business recruiter for four years under former Gov. Beverly Perdue, who left office in 2013. Mr. Crisco was born to a Republican family on a dairy farm and earned an MBA from Harvard University. He spent a year in President Richard Nixon’s Commerce Department and had a career in textile manufacturing.
He was able to heavily outspend Mr. Aiken in their primary battle.
Although he would be a distinct underdog, Mr. Aiken’s high name recognition and the divisions within the GOP in the district could give him a fighting chance.
The Southern Political Report noted that Mrs. Ellmers faced an at-time bitter primary challenge from conservative radio talk-show host Frank Roche. She won the primary 59 percent to 41 percent, but the wounds from the internal party fight have not exactly healed.
The challenger has yet to reconcile with the state party, even issuing an angry “open letter” last week that read in part, “The [GOP] establishment, with some help from one of our newest lefty billionaires and the left-leaning media, helped reelect the least qualified candidate in the 2nd District Republican primary.”
Mrs. Ellmers is also seen as close to House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, a double-edged credential in the district.