Singer Clay Aiken's chief rival for the Democratic nomination for Congress died unexpectedly Monday, about a week after primary voting.
Keith Crisco, 71, a former North Carolina secretary of Commerce, died "after an accidental fall" at his home in Asheboro, N.C., according to a statement from his family. A woman who answered the telephone at Asheboro Elastics, which Crisco founded, confirmed the news to USA TODAY and said the company's workers were in shock.
Aiken, a former American Idol runner-up, said he will suspend campaign activities to pray for Crisco's family and friends.
The entertainer led Crisco by 369 votes for the Democratic nod in North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District, but the race was too close to call and not finalized. The Democratic nominee will go on to face GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers in the fall.
"He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant," Aiken said in a statement. "I was honored to know him."
State elections officials have been counting all the absentee and provisional ballots from last week's primary, and the nine counties in the district have until Tuesday to report their official canvass of votes. Brad Crone, a political strategist and longtime Crisco friend, told The News & Observer in Raleigh that Crisco was finalizing plans to concede to Aiken.
Toni Morris, a licensed professional counselor, was running a distant third to Aiken and Crisco.
Crisco, who was appointed to the Commerce post by then-governor Bev Perdue, is a former member of the Asheboro City Council and the city's school board. He founded Asheboro Elastics in 1986, and it employs 200 people.
Crisco and his wife, Jane, have three children and six grandchildren, according to his biography on his campaign website. They were members of the First United Methodist Church in Asheboro.
"The State Board of Elections is saddened to hear of the passing of Keith Crisco," board spokesman Josh Lawson said. "We are grateful for Mr. Crisco's service to our state and his community through the years. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Crisco family during this difficult time."
Ellmers called Crisco's death a "sudden and painful tragedy."
"His kindness and dedication to his principles were models we should all strive toward, and he will be clearly missed," the congresswoman said in a statement.
Contributing: Associated Press