COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - There were many calls for South Carolina’s Archie Parnell to end his congressional bid following his admission earlier this year that, decades ago, he had beaten his then-wife. Slowly, Parnell is clawing back support from his party ahead of the Nov. 6 race against U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman.
Sean Carrigan, the Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson in the 2nd District, said that, as Parnell’s ex-wife has reportedly forgiven him, “we should not stand in the way of their healing.” He added Democrats running for Congress in South Carolina should win “because to not have them win would mean the alternative.”
Parnell didn’t deny the allegations, calling his behavior “inexcusable, wrong and downright embarrassing” and saying he had made significant personal changes. At the time, Democratic Chairman Trav Robertson called on Parnell to withdraw. Now Robertson stands in Parnell’s corner.
“Archie Parnell has won his primary and the voters of the 5th District have spoken,” Robertson said. “There are varying opinions, but he’s the candidate. … Anybody who says they know what the electorate is going to do is not being truthful. But he won the primary fair and square.”
That said, Parnell still has critics in the party. Mary Geren, the only female Democrat running for Congress in the state, said that while she believed in the ability to learn from one’s mistakes, she would in no way support his candidacy.
“From the beginning of the special election forward, Archie should have been transparent with his team, supporters, and the voters about his past,” she told the AP. “I have not endorsed him and don’t intend to.”
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the state’s only Democratic congressman, said he stood by his earlier comments calling on Parnell to drop out of the race.
The campaign of Joe Cunningham, a Democrat trying to win the 1st District currently held by U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, refused to comment on whether or not he supports Parnell, saying only through a spokesman that he’s focused on his own campaign.
State party leaders immediately called for Parnell to withdraw following the May revelation that, more than four decades ago, Parnell beat his then-wife. According to their 1973 divorce records unearthed by The Post and Courier of Charleston, Parnell first used a tire iron to shatter a glass door, then his fists to pummel his wife.
Parnell’s campaign manager and other staffers quit, leaving him nearly alone to ride out the primary. But the former Goldman Sachs tax adviser was adamant about staying in, determined to make another go at Republican Ralph Norman. A year earlier, Parnell narrowly lost a special election for the 5th district, which had been in Democratic hands for more than 100 years.
Parnell went on to handily win the nomination over several political unknowns, saying of his victory, “You don’t have to be defined by your worst mistake.”
Gingerly, Parnell launched a general election campaign, touring the district’s 11 counties and challenging Norman to debates. Supporters trickled back, among them county-level Democratic Party officials and some elected officials.
In an extensive interview with AP, Parnell said that, while he was up front with campaign staffers about having been divorced, he didn’t explicitly tell them about the violent incident.
“Maybe I was wrong not to do that,” Parnell said. “I wasn’t trying to hide anything, but I was ashamed.”
Parnell has several policy speeches planned ahead of the election, making a last pass to remind voters he’s still the candidate they nearly elected outright last year, despite his shortcomings decades ago.
“All of us have problems, and you can get help,” Parnell said. “Look at my example. Something terrible happened a long time ago, I sought forgiveness, and I’m a better person today. We are all capable of that. We can do better.”
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