Clay Aiken’s opponent dies in fall in North Carolina

Clay Aiken, Keith Crisco

(CNN) — Keith Crisco, a businessman who was locked in a razor thin primary race for a Democratic congressional seat in North Carolina with Clay Aiken, died on Monday.

He died at home in Asheboro around 1 p.m., according to the North Carolina Democratic Party. Other details were not immediately clear. He was 71.

Crisco was running a very close second in the primary battle in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, around 300 votes behind the former “American Idol” star.

Final results had been expected as early as Tuesday along with a decision by Crisco on whether he would ask for a recount if the situation hadn’t changed.

Aiken tweeted that he was “stunned and deeply saddened” by Crisco’s death and temporarily suspended campaign activities.

“He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant,” Aiken said in the tweet.

Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller noted Crisco’s accomplishments in the public and private sector.

“Keith was a brilliant problem solver who liked to make good, solid public policy. He would have made a great congressman,” Voller said.

Rep. Renee Ellmers, the Republican who currently holds the seat and would face the primary winner in November, said she was “deeply saddened” by the news.

“His kindness and dedication to his principles were models we should all strive toward and he will be dearly missed,” Ellmers said. “My thoughts and prayers are with Keith’s family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time.”

Crisco was a textile entrepreneur and co-founded Asheboro Elastics, which confirmed his death.

He was also a former state commerce secretary and was a White House fellow in the 1970s.

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

His campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.

Democrats already faced an uphill battle to unseat Ellmers in the general election. She’s already served two terms in Congress.

By Dana Davidsen

CNN’s Mark Preston contributed to this report.

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