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Aiken Maintains Lead; Is Official Democratic Nominee For Congress

By Craig Jarvis, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

RALEIGH, N.C. — Clay Aiken will be the Democratic nominee facing Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers for the 2nd Congressional District seat.

The final canvassing of votes — a tally of Election Day plus absentee and provisional ballots in nine counties — came the day after runner-up Keith Crisco died in a fall at his home in Asheboro.

If Tuesday’s canvass had narrowed the difference between Aiken and Crisco to no more than 1 percent of the total votes cast or brought Aiken’s total to under 40 percent, Crisco could have called for a recount had he lived.

The margin didn’t narrow. In fact, Aiken gained 21 votes on Crisco and received 40.86 percent of the vote.

But Crisco’s death made the final outcome irrelevant.

State elections officials said the situation was highly unusual. The law is clear on what happens if a candidate dies between filing for office and the primary election; and it covers what happens if a candidate dies after the primary but before the general election.

But this narrow area where the deceased candidate was in between is something state law doesn’t directly address. The law requires the runner-up to call for a recount, which would not have been possible in this case.

Crisco had realized the outstanding ballots were not going to change the outcome of the election, and he planned on conceding to Aiken on Tuesday morning, before canvassing began.

The state Board of Elections will certify the results of the election on May 22.

Photo: UNICEF up close via Flickr

Sudden Death In North Carolina Race Likely Clears Way For Clay Aiken

By David Zucchino and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

DURHAM, N.C. — Former “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken most likely clinched the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in North Carolina after the sudden death of the opponent who closely trailed him in last week’s primary.

Keith Crisco, a 71-year-old businessman and former state commerce secretary, apparently tripped on a rug on the porch of his home in Asheboro on Monday, falling backward and striking his head on the brick steps, said Brad Crone, a longtime friend and Democratic political consultant in Raleigh.

In unofficial results, Aiken leads Crisco by just 369 votes. State election rules allow a candidate to request a recount if the final margin is within 1 percentage point. Aiken’s lead was slightly more than that, but election officials were not scheduled to complete the vote canvass until Tuesday.

Crone said he had spoken with Crisco by phone around noon. Crisco had just reviewed the latest vote totals, Crone said, and had decided to concede on Tuesday. Crisco believed he did not have enough votes to push Aiken below 40 percent, the threshold to avoid a runoff election, Crone said.

“An hour later, Mr. Crisco was dead,” Crone said.

Randy Holler, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, described Crisco as “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 2nd Congressional District needed new leadership in Washington,” he said.

In a statement, Aiken said he was suspending all campaign activities. He called Crisco a “gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant.”

Despite his star power, Aiken is an underdog in the general election against the GOP incumbent, Rep. Renee Ellmers, in the district west of Raleigh, which was drawn to be a GOP stronghold.

Crisco, who co-founded an elastics business, had served in local and state government. He was loading his car for a business trip to Dallas when he had the accident, Crone said.

The Asheboro Police Department and the Randolph County medical examiner are conducting a death investigation, Crone said. Police and city officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Crisco’s death eliminates the possibility of a recount because he is no longer an eligible candidate, according to Joshua Lawson, spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

If the final vote count Tuesday puts Crisco ahead, the district Democratic Party’s executive committee would then nominate a replacement candidate, Lawson said.

Crone, who said he has known Crisco almost three decades, described him as a highly intelligent man and shrewd businessman who grew up in rural North Carolina and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Crisco told a Greensboro, N.C., newspaper that after a Harvard dean told him no one at Harvard had heard of his college, tiny Pfeiffer University in North Carolina, Crisco replied, “Dean, many people at Pfeiffer have never heard of Harvard.”

Crone called Crisco “a man of honor, character and integrity.”

“He gave a lot back to his community and state,” he said. “Keith was dedicated to faith, family and community.”

Crisco is survived by his wife, Jane, whom Crone described as his high school sweetheart, and by three children and six grandchildren.

Photo via criscoforcongress.com

 

Outcome Of North Carolina Primary Between Crisco, Aiken May Not Be Known For Days

By Craig Jarvis, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

RALEIGH, N.C. — Keith Crisco and Clay Aiken kept low profiles Wednesday, the day after the would-be Democratic nominees for a congressional seat from North Carolina were stuck in a contest too close to call.

The outcome is on hold until provisional and absentee ballots can be counted. It could be a week or more before the final results are in.

At the end of Tuesday’s voting, Aiken had received 369 votes more than Crisco in the 2nd Congressional District primary. With 276 outstanding ballots — 190 absentee and 86 provisional — that won’t change Aiken’s position. But it could be enough to trigger a recount.

As a result, even though he is trailing, Crisco says he isn’t giving up.

“This election is still very tight,” Crisco said in a statement his campaign released. “I want the elections officials to have an opportunity to tally the votes and provide a report on their canvass activities to allow all the campaigns a chance to see the final numbers. This has been a great campaign and I am very appreciative of my supporters and the hard work that the county boards of elections are doing at this time.”

Aiken’s campaign also released a statement thanking supporters and expressing optimism that he would be the party’s nominee in the general election.

“This was a very close contest, and as we continue to count the votes, we are more and more excited about our campaign’s ability to move forward and be victorious in November,” Aiken said in the statement.

The victor will face U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in the general election in November. She defeated GOP challenger Frank Roche by taking nearly 59 percent of the vote.

The election results are not final until each county has canvassed its results and certified them to the state. Then, if the difference between the votes the two candidates received is no more than 1 percent, Crisco could demand a recount. The margin now is slightly more than 1 percent.

If the margin narrows sufficiently, Crisco would have until 5 p.m. on the first business day after canvassing to demand a recount, which would be next Wednesday.

Crisco’s staffers said they will be checking in with county elections boards to see if there are any concerns. A spokesman for Crisco said the campaign knew of one report of a precinct that had equipment problems.

There are a number of approaching deadlines: Thursday is the cutoff point to file a formal protest alleging problems with how the voting was conducted. Friday is the deadline for civilian absentee ballots to arrive by mail, and Monday is the deadline for military and overseas ballots. Canvassing takes place on Tuesday.

The final count in Cumberland County, home to Fort Bragg and Pope Army Airfield, could be affected by military ballots. Aiken had just a 56-vote edge over Crisco in that county. Third-place finisher Toni Morris trailed Aiken by 591 votes in Cumberland. There were 6,367 votes cast in that county in the Democratic primary.

Recounts do not generally change the outcome of elections.

A recent recount occurred in 2012, when U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre held a 507-vote lead in the general election over then-state Sen. David Rouzer. A count of provisional ballots increased McIntyre’s lead, which then only diminished by one vote in the recount.

There were nearly 337,000 votes cast in that election. McIntyre didn’t run for re-election this year, and on Tuesday, Rouzer won the GOP primary for the seat, which stretches from Johnston County to the coast.

In Tuesday’s 2nd Congressional District primary, 28,492 votes have been counted. Aiken took about 41 percent of that; Crisco, 40 percent; and Morris, 20 percent.

Late Tuesday night, Aiken addressed supporters at a golf club in Holly Springs, telling them he was optimistic. But he stopped short of declaring victory.

“We are feeling incredibly comfortable tonight,” Aiken said. “We are comfortable not only with the results we’ve seen this evening, we are not only comfortable with how we’ll feel tomorrow morning, but more than anything we’re comfortable with the way this campaign was run.”

He then introduced what he said would be the theme song taking his campaign into the November election against Ellmers: An aide played a recording of the 1966 hit “Walk Away Renee.”

The 2nd Congressional District was shaped to favor Republican candidates, and Ellmers, who is in her second term, is considered to have a firm hold on the seat. The district includes all or parts of nine counties, looping from Randolph County in the west down to Cumberland County and up into Wake County.

Ellmers had the strongest support in Tuesday’s voting in Harnett, Lee, Chatham and Cumberland counties. Crisco performed strongest in Randolph County, where he lives, and also won over Alamance, Moore, Lee and Harnett counties. Aiken’s strongest showing was in Wake County, and he drew a lot of support in Chatham and Cumberland.

Morris, who also ran for the seat in 2010 when there was a lot less interest in the race, was more of a factor than anticipated. She almost drew enough votes to keep Aiken below the 40 percent threshold, which would have forced a runoff in July. If the final count ends up giving Morris many more votes, it’s possible, but not likely, that could force a runoff between Aiken and Crisco.

Morris won Hoke County, although that only brought her 631 votes. Aiken’s success in the heavier-populated Wake and Cumberland helped push him into the lead.

Crisco spent more than three times what Aiken did, more than $750,000 — most of which he loaned to his own campaign. The money bought TV ads, mailers and yard signs — far more than what Aiken employed. Aiken’s strategists said they were banking on the former “American Idol” runner-up’s name recognition, and Aiken has said he intended to save his money for the general election.

Photo via Flickr

Outcome Of Clay Aiken Primary Race May Be A Ways Off

By Craig Jarvis, The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)

RALEIGH, NC — The outcome of the Democratic primary contest between Keith Crisco and Clay Aiken may not be known until next week or later.

The results of Tuesday night’s count show Aiken received 369 more votes than Crisco in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District race.

Wednesday morning, Crisco said he wasn’t giving up.

Provisional and absentee ballots received by the deadline have not been counted. And the election results are not final until each county has canvassed their results and certified them to the state. Canvassing begins Tuesday.

“This election is still very tight,” Crisco said in the statement. “I want the elections’ officials to have an opportunity to tally the votes and provide a report on their canvass activities to allow all the campaigns a chance to see the final numbers.

“This has been a great campaign and I am very appreciative of my supporters and the hard work that the county boards of elections are doing at this time.”

Crisco’s staffers will be monitoring county elections boards and monitoring the canvassing.

Crisco cannot call for a recount until all votes are certified and the difference between his and Aiken’s votes is no more than 1 percent. Currently, Aiken’s margin stands at 1.29 percent — barely too much for a recount.

Recounts do not generally change the outcome of elections.

A recent recount occurred in 2012, when U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre held a 507-vote lead in the general election over then state Sen. David Rouzer. A count of provisional ballots increased McIntyre’s lead, which then only diminished by one vote in the recount.

There were nearly 337,000 votes cast in that election. McIntyre didn’t run for re-election this year, and on Tuesday Rouzer won the GOP primary for the seat, which stretches from Johnston County to the coast.

In Tuesday’s 2nd Congressional District primary, 28,492 votes have been counted. Aiken took about 41 percent of that, Crisco 40 percent and Toni Morris received 20 percent.

At an election night event at an Asheboro wine and beer shop on Tuesday, Crisco declared the contest too close to call and went home for the night. Problems with the state Board of Elections web-posted results made the outcome of the race uncertain until very late.

Aiken waited until around 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday to tell supporters gathered at a golf club in Holly Springs, broadcast on television, that he was optimistic — although he stopped short of declaring victory.

“We are feeling incredibly comfortable tonight,” Aiken said. “We are comfortable not only with the results we’ve seen this evening, we are not only comfortable with how we’ll feel tomorrow morning, but more than anything we’re comfortable with the way this campaign was run.”

He then introduced what he said would be the theme song taking his campaign into the November election against U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers: An aide played a recording of the 1966 hit “Walk Away Renee.”

Photo: UNICEF up close via Flickr