Clay Aiken's Democratic challenger dies after 'accidental fall,' family says

Keith Crisco, the entrepreneur who was locked in a too-close-to-call Democratic primary with former 'American Idol' singer Clay Aiken, has died. '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.

Robert Willett/The News & Observer/AP/File
Congressional candidate Keith Crisco addresses supporters at Lumina Wine & Beer in Asheboro, N.C., May 6, 2014.

The entrepreneur who was locked in a too-close-to-call Democratic primary with former "American Idol" singer Clay Aiken died Monday, his family said.

Keith Crisco, 71, died "after an accidental fall" at his home in Asheboro, about 65 miles west of Raleigh, according to a statement from his family.

"He was a remarkable man with a tremendous dedication to his family and to public service," the statement said.

Aiken was leading Crisco by fewer than 400 votes after the contest last Tuesday. Unless Crisco can come from behind during a final tally of the votes this week, Aiken will be the nominee, spokesman Josh Lawson said. If Crisco does win, local Democrats would select the nominee, Lawson said.

The winner will face Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers in November in the GOP-leaning 2nd Congressional District.

Crisco had been North Carolina's top business recruiter for four years under former Gov. Beverly Perdue, who left office in 2013. Crisco was born to a Republican family on a dairy farm and earned an MBA from Harvard University. He spent a year in President Richard Nixon's Commerce Department and had a career in textile manufacturing.

"Keith came from humble beginnings. 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," Aiken said in a statement. "He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him."

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