May 12, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Aiken’s Democratic opponent dies suddenly at 71
Clay Aiken's primary opponent Keith Crisco died suddenly on Monday (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Clay Aiken‘s primary opponent Keith Crisco died suddenly on Monday (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Keith Crisco, the primary opponent of gay congressional candidate Clay Aiken, died suddenly after a fall Monday, according to local media reports.

Amid plans for a recount of the results of the hotly contested Democratic primary, Crisco reportedly died at his home as a result of injuries he suffered from a fall at his Asheboro, N.C. home. According to the Courier-Tribune, Crisco was found dead at the scene when emergency workers arrived. Crisco, 71, was formerly a North Carolina commerce secretary.

As a result of the primary Tuesday, Aiken enjoyed just a 369-vote lead in the race between him and Crisco in the race for the Democratic nomination to represent North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district. The race was deemed too close to call on Wednesday, and Crisco had vowed to continue the fight by seeking a recount.

Whoever won the primary would go on to face incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) in the general election , who’s favored to win in the heavily Republican district.

In a statement, Aiken said he’s “stunned and deeply saddened” by Crisco’s death and pledged to suspend temporarily all campaign activities.

“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. He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him.”

The Washington Blade couldn’t immediately confirm that Crisco’s death automatically would make Aiken the Democratic nominee, although that seemed like the most likely outcome as a result of the situation.

[UPDATE: Joshua Lawson, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Board of Elections, said Aiken "is not rendered the automatic winner" as the result of Crisco's death. Primary results are only official after county canvass, which is set to begin 11 am Tuesday throughout North Carolina. Congressional races are not final until certification by the State Board of Elections.

A few scenarios affected by Crisco’s passing are as follows:

1. Aiken falls within 1 percent of the Crisco's totals, which would have entitled Crisco to a recount: State law requires that the runner-up request the recount. Crisco is no longer able to do so, and no recount would be required.

2. Aiken fails to get 40 percent, which would have triggered a runoff election: State law requires that the runner-up request the runoff. Crisco is no longer able to do so, and no runoff would be called.

3. Crisco wins the nomination: State law allows the district executive committee of the candidate's political party to name a nominee.]

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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