North Carolina Congressional candidate Keith Crisco, who was locked in a tight challenge with Clay Aiken for the Democratic nomination, died suddenly at his home on Monday, WNCN confirmed.
Veteran political consultant Brad Crone told WNCN political reporter Beau Minnick that Crisco was near the front door of his house when he tripped on a rug, fell backward and hit his head on bricks. Crone said Crisco had planned to make a business trip to Dallas and told him he planned to pull out of the race.
A woman at his company, Asheboro Elastics Corp. in Asheboro, confirmed that he died at his home Monday around 1 p.m., and said employees at the company were being told what had happened.
"It is true," she said. "But we don't have any details. They wanted his employees to know."
The news rocketed around North Carolina Monday afternoon, stunning those close to politics and those who knew Crisco in his long career.
"I am stunned and deeply saddened by Keith Crisco's death," Aiken said in a statement. "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.
"He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him."
Crisco, a successful Asheboro businessman and later secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce, had faced Aiken in a tense battle for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District.
Aiken was credited with 11,634 votes, Crisco 11,265 and Toni Morris of Fayetteville 5,593.
Crisco, 71, initially refused to concede the election, and the Board of Elections was scheduled to have a voter canvass on Tuesday. The State Board of Elections sent out a news release expressing that it was saddened to hear he died, but did not say what happens next in the election.
If the canvass shows Aiken had the most votes and at least a 40 percent margin, however, the point is moot and Aiken will face Ellmers.
Aiken said he would suspend all campaign activities "as we pray for [Crisco's] family and friends."
Crone said he had spoken with Crisco earlier Monday and Crisco planned to concede.
"At his instruction, I had called Gary Pearce to convey that Keith was going to concede the election tomorrow morning and would be calling Mr. Aiken to congratulate him," Crone wrote in an email.
"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."
Raised on a dairy farm near Aquadale, Crisco graduated from Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C., in 1964 and got his masters in business administration from Harvard in 1968.
He worked for Burlington Industries, then a textile giant, for years before becoming president of Stedman Elastics from 1978-86. From 1986, he became president of Asheboro Elastics Corp.
Crisco was heavily involved in civic activities through-out his life, including a stint on the Asheboro City Council.
Gary Bartlett, former head of the State Board of Elections, said if Crisco were to have more votes than Aiken after the canvass, they would declare a vacancy and the Democratic Party executive committee for District 2 would meet and pick the candidate. In that case, it could be Aiken.
STATEMENTS ON KEITH CRISCO'S PASSING
"I am stunned and deeply saddened by Keith Crisco’s death. 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.
"He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him.
"I am suspending all campaign activities as we pray for his family and friends."
- Clay Aiken, Democratic challenger
"I am deeply saddened by this sudden and painful tragedy and wish God's blessings for Keith's family through the coming days. His kindness and dedication to his principles were models we should all strive toward, and he will be dearly missed. My thoughts and prayers are with Keith's family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time."
- U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers
"I am shocked and saddened by the sudden loss of Keith Crisco, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Jane, and his entire family, who have suffered a terrible loss. I had the distinct privilege of working with Keith for many years and I was honored to call him a friend. 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. While he worked tirelessly to bring good jobs to our state, he stood up for education, for our seniors and the most vulnerable among us – always pushing to make North Carolina a little stronger and a little better. Our state is undoubtedly better and stronger because of Keith Crisco’s service."
- U.S. Senator Kay Hagan
"Brooke and I were shocked to hear the news of Keith Crisco's untimely death. 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. Our thoughts and prayers are with Keith's family at this difficult time."
- U.S. Senator Richard Burr
"I am very saddened to hear of the passing of Keith Crisco. Mr. Crisco was a dedicated public servant to the State of North Carolina and he will be greatly missed. Renee and I send our thoughts and prayers to his family and loved ones during this difficult time."
- U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson
"Since we met during my first campaign in 1986, I have come to know Keith Crisco as a friend, a business leader and an outstanding public servant. As Secretary of Commerce, 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. My wife Lisa and I are deeply saddened to learn of his passing, and our thoughts are with his family."
- U.S. Rep. David Price
"My heart sank, like so many other people who admired Keith Crisco, when I learned of his sudden passing. While I was a mayor, and now as governor, Keith was a partner, collaborator and strong advocate for the state he loved. Although Keith was a Democrat and a Pfeiffer University graduate, and I went to Catawba and am a Republican, nothing could stop Keith Crisco from building a lasting friendship. North Carolina was blessed and is a better state because of his leadership."
- N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory
"Bob and I are devastated to learn that our good friend Keith Crisco has died. He and Jane were tremendous personal friends as well as colleagues
"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
"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
"Keith was one of North Carolina's giants who made a real difference everyday he lived. He was active in local issues and loved The Lord. His wife Jane and their wonderful family were central to his life
"Bob and I send our prayers and love to them and give thanks for their sacrifice in letting Keith share his life with us and the people of this state."
- Former N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue
"I'm deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco. 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."
- N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger
"My deepest condolences go out to the Crisco family on the passing of one of our state’s most widely-respected public officials, Keith Crisco. 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. We will keep his family in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."
- N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis
"I got to know Secretary Crisco when Governor Perdue appointed him to be her Secretary of Commerce. Keith was a brilliant problem solver who liked to make good, solid public policy. He would have made a great Congressman and I know he felt strongly that the Second Congressional District needed new leadership in Washington. The Democratic family and North Carolina has lost a strong leader and our condolences go out to the Crisco family and community."
- N.C. Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller
"We are incredibly shocked and saddened to hear about Keith Crisco’s sudden passing. 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. 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. Keith’s family is in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time."
- N.C. Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope
"We are heartbroken to share the news that Keith has passed away after an accidental fall at his home this afternoon. 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. While we mourn the loss of our beloved Keith, we ask the media to respect our privacy at this time."
- Tim Crowley, Crisco's former assistant secretary for communication