Sudden death in North Carolina race likely clears way for Clay Aiken

Sudden death in North Carolina race likely clears way for Clay Aiken
Clay Aiken, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House from North Carolina, will likely win the nomination after the sudden death of J. Keith Crisco, a former state commerce secretary. (Chris Seward / McClatchy-Tribune)

The Democratic candidate who was narrowly trailing Clay Aiken in a North Carolina congressional primary election died Monday, a day before election officials were to determine whether a runoff election was required.

Keith Crisco, who co-founded an elastics business in Asheboro and served in local and state government, died around 1 p.m. at home, according to the North Carolina Democratic Party. The Asheboro Courier-Tribune reported that the 71-year-old candidate died from a fall.



May 15, 10:13 a.m.: An earlier version of this post misidentified North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller as Randy Holler.


Crisco trailed Aiken, the former "American Idol" runner-up making his first bid for public office, by just 369 votes after last Tuesday's primary election. County election officials are scheduled to hold vote canvassing Tuesday to help determine whether a runoff election would have been triggered.

State election rules require a primary runoff if no candidate receives 40% of the vote. Initial results showed Aiken with 40.8% of the vote. Crisco had yet to concede, however, and could have requested a recount if the final margin was within 1 percentage point.

In a statement, Aiken said he was suspending all campaign activities, and called Crisco a "gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant."

Crisco’s death now all but ensures that Aiken will be the Democratic nominee to face incumbent Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers in November. Even if the final vote count Tuesday showed Crisco taking the lead, the district Democratic Party’s executive committee would then nominate a replacement candidate, according to Joshua Lawson, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

In a statement, the state Democratic Party said that a recount had been "anticipated."

"Keith was a brilliant problem-solver who liked to make good, solid public policy. He would have made a great congressman, and I know he felt strongly that the 2nd Congressional District needed new leadership in Washington," said Randy Voller, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party.