’American Idol’ Contestant Defeats Dead Political Rival

Clay Aiken, a runner-up on “American Idol,” already was close to winning his bid for a U.S. congressional nomination. Then his opponent died.

And now, the state says, Aiken has won.

The death of Keith Crisco, a 71-year-old businessman trailing Aiken by fewer than 400 votes in a contest for a Democratic House nomination in North Carolina, cast yet more uncertainty into the state’s Second Congressional District as nine counties were finishing a vote canvassing today.

Either Aiken -- who suspended his campaign temporarily after news broke of Crisco’s death -- or Crisco were sure to face a challenging contest against the second-term Republican congresswoman, U.S. Representative Renee Ellmers, seeking re-election in November.

Yet Crisco’s sudden death -- reported as the result of a fall in his Asheboro home yesterday -- raised an uncomfortable question: What if he won the party’s primary election?

State law had an answer.

If Crisco posthumously won the vote, North Carolina law would have required the executive committee of the Democratic Party to name a nominee, according to Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Final Tallies

Aiken won, with 11,678 votes, according to the state board’s report of canvassed votes. Crisco trailed with 11,288. Aiken also won almost 41 percent in a three-way primary contest in which anyone claiming more than 40 percent would win.

“The nine counties that affected the result have finalized their official report,” Lawson said. “There is a certification process that remains ongoing. But what you have are official results from the counties, which historically are likely to translate into the final results.”

Aiken, 35, placed second on the television talent show, “American Idol,” in 2003.

“I am stunned and deeply saddened by Keith Crisco’s death,” he said in a statement posted yesterday at a campaign website gone mostly black. “He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him.”

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