Asheboro, N.C. — Keith Crisco, who was battling Clay Aiken for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District, died Monday in a fall at his Randolph County home.
Officials with Asheboro Elastics, the textiles company that Crisco founded in 1986, confirmed that Crisco had died. Democratic strategist Brad Crone said a campaign aide told him that Crisco tripped and hit his head on a walkway outside his home.
"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 last Tuesday's primary, Crisco was trailing Aiken by 369 votes, according to unofficial totals. Crisco said in a statement Wednesday that he was waiting for county canvasses to see if the race remained close enough for him to request a recount or whether he and Aiken would go to a July runoff.
Crone said he had spoken with Crisco earlier in the day and that Crisco said he planned to concede the race Tuesday.
Christine Botta, Crisco's campaign manager, said Monday evening that they were not yet ready to concede the election.
"We were not ready to concede until every single ballot had been counted. That decision had not been made by the state Board of Elections yet so we were not ready to concede," she said.
Botta said she last saw Crisco Friday.
"Keith and I were together almost every day of the campaign. He was truly a wonderful man. He was bigger than life," she said. "He was always concerned about everybody. That's why he was running for office, he was concerned about the future."
Aiken, who will presumably advance to face Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers in the November general election, said he plans to suspend his campaign for a while to pray for Crisco's family.
"He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him," Aiken said in a statement.
Others from across the political spectrum expressed similar thoughts upon learning of Crisco's death.
"His kindness and dedication to his principles were models we should all strive toward, and he will be dearly missed," Ellmers said in a statement.
"While I was a mayor, and now as governor, Keith was a partner, collaborator and strong advocate for the state he loved," Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement. "North Carolina was blessed and is a better state because of his leadership."
"Keith was a brilliant problem solver who liked to make good, solid public policy. He would have made a great congressman," Randy Voller, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said in a statement. "The Democratic family and North Carolina have lost a strong leader, and our condolences go out to the Crisco family and community.”
"I was honored to work with him on many issues that positively impacted the people of North Carolina, and I was struck by his professionalism and dedication to the citizens he served. He never wavered in his determination to improve the state he was so proud to call home," House Speaker Thom Tillis said in a statement.
Crisco, 71, was state Commerce Department secretary under former Gov. Beverly Perdue. He served as an Asheboro City Council member from 2003 to 2009 and was a member of the local school board in the 1980s.
"Keith was a great North Carolinian who always did what he believed was best for his county, his state and his country. Political parties and perception were never part of his decision making," Perdue said in a statement. "I asked him to leave Asheboro Elastics to be Commerce secretary during the worst economic times since the Great Depression. He accepted that responsibility without hesitation because he loved this state and wanted to help when times were hard. His efforts helped in attracting more than 120,000 jobs as he worked across our state in both rural and urban areas and around the world to bring new jobs, expand existing jobs and stabilize our economy."
"They didn’t come any smarter than Keith Crisco, and his main goal in life was making Randolph County and North Carolina a better place to live and work At this sad time of his passing, I can safely say that Keith Crisco accomplished his goal," 6th District Congressman Howard Coble said in a statement.
"Keith worked tirelessly, during the worst economic downturn in decades, to put North Carolina on the path to recovery and to increase economic opportunity for all of her people. He cared deeply about our state, and he was seeking to continue serving his fellow Tar Heels by running for Congress," 4th District Congressman David Price said.
"Secretary Crisco was a good man who was committed to doing all he could to improve job opportunities for the people of this state. I consider it a privilege to have worked with him, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement.
"Keith was a savvy businessman, a passionate public servant and a champion for economic development, but more than that, he was kind. Keith’s inherent kindness was evident to everyone he met, and he dedicated his life to making North Carolina a better place to live for everyone," U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said in a statement.
"I considered Keith a close, personal friend, and I know how much he cared for the state of North Carolina. He will be greatly missed," U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said.
"Keith was an accomplished businessman and public servant with a sterling reputation and a tremendous amount of respect from North Carolinians across the partisan spectrum," Claude Pope, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, said in a statement. "Keith, like my father, served the state as Commerce secretary with dignity and humility, and also like my father, passed away well before his time."
Crisco is survived by his wife, three children and six grandchildren. The family asked for privacy.
"Keith was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. He was a remarkable man with a tremendous dedication to his family and to public service. We appreciate the outpouring of love from our family and friends and all who knew him," the family said in a statement.
Crisco will remain on the ballot and will be included in the vote count through the end of the election on Tuesday.
The only way Aiken would lose is if Crisco overtakes Aiken in the vote count and receives more than 40 percent of the vote, which if such happens, the Democratic party would name the nominee.
As of Monday evening, Aiken had a 1.29 percent lead over Crisco, according to the state Board of Elections.