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(Yahoo!) - Keith Crisco, the Democratic primary opponent of former "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken in a race for North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District seat, died unexpectedly on Monday while still locked in a heated race.

Crisco, 71, died from injuries sustained during "some type of fall," according to Robert Lawson, the president of Asheboro Elastics Corporation, a company Crisco founded and for which his sons work.

Less than 400 votes separated Aiken and Crisco at the time of the latter's death. Aiken, 35, had a slight lead, but Crisco had not conceded. The winner of the race would go on to face Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers.

"I am stunned and deeply saddened by Keith Crisco's death," Aiken wrote in a statement Monday afternoon. "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."

Ellmers also released a statement saying that she was "deeply saddened" by Crisco's passing. "His kindness and dedication to his principles were models we should all strive toward, and he will be dearly missed," she added.

Crisco served as a top business recruiter for former North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue. A Harvard MBA graduate, he had spent a year in President Richard Nixon's Dept. of Commerce, before going on to have a successful career in textiles. Crisco had invested several hundred thousands of dollars of his own money into his primary campaign.

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