Clay Aiken's opponent in heated NC House race dies at home

Keith Crisco, who was locked in a battle with former "American Idol" contestant Clay Aiken in a Democratic primary race for North Carolina's 2nd House district, died suddenly at his home Monday.

Aiken, who was ahead of 71-year-old Crisco by 369 votes at the time of his death, said on Facebook Monday afternoon that he was suspending all campaign activities "as we pray for his family and friends."

"I am stunned and deeply saddened by Keith Crisco’s death. Keith came from humble beginnings," Aiken said. "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."

The Asheboro, N.C.-based Courier-Tribune said Crisco died from injuries suffered from a fall around 1 p.m. He was reported dead when emergency workers arrived.

Crisco, who was born to a Republican family on a dairy farm and earned an MBA from Harvard University, had been North Carolina's top business recruiter for four years under former Gov. Beverly Perdue, who left office in 2013. He spent a year in President Nixon's Commerce Department, was a co-founder of Asheboro Elastics Corp. and served on the Asheboro City Council from 2003 to 2009, the Asheboro, N.C.-based Courier-Tribune reported.

Democratic strategist Brad Crone told that he had spoken with Crisco earlier in the day and that Crisco said he planned to concede the race Tuesday.

"This is a shocking day," Crone said. "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."

In a statement, incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers -- whom Aiken will presumably face in the November general election -- said she was "deeply saddened" to hear of Crisco's passing.

"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."

Both candidates were reportedly awaiting word from election officials on Tuesday before determining how to proceed, the Courier-Tribune reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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