Republicans are calling on Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) to cancel an event with congressional candidate Archie Parnell, who admitted to hitting his ex-wife 45 years ago — a revelation that initially inspired Clyburn to denounce him.
Hours after Clyburn announced an “election eve fish fry” for Parnell, the National Republican Congressional Committee called on the third-ranking House Democrat to cancel his appearance with an “admitted domestic abuser” and issue an apology.
“Congressman Clyburn’s actions aren’t just hypocritical, they’re disgusting,” NRCC spokesman Matt Gorman said in a statement Tuesday night.
Asked for comment, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee referred to its statement from May, when the Post and Courier first obtained the divorce records that revealed the past abuse.
“What Archie Parnell did is inexcusable and deeply disturbing, and he should drop out of this race immediately,” DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said at the time.
Clyburn’s office did not immediately respond to a question about the event, but the congressman’s decision to embrace Parnell rippled through South Carolina Democratic politics Tuesday. The state’s other Democratic congressional candidates had denounced Parnell in May, when the abuse revelation led to an exodus of the candidate’s staff and a condemnation from the state Democratic Party.
But Parnell, who nearly won a 2017 special election for the state’s 5th Congressional District, soldiered on and won the Democratic primary. He hired a new campaign staff and slowly began reaching out to district Democrats. At news conferences and in campaign videos, he emphasized that he had changed since the 1973 abuse, that his ex-wife had forgiven him, and that he had remarried and raised two daughters.
Over the summer, some South Carolina Democrats began asking whether Parnell deserved a second chance. “I’ve always believed one can be redeemed,” Clyburn told McClatchy two months ago, though he stopped short of endorsing him.
"Archie’s been out on the trail and working hard,” said Michael Wukela, Parnell’s spokesman. “He gave a major speech this month about what happened 44 years ago. He spoke very frankly about it. And for the past several months, to be honest, we have not gotten many questions about it. People can say whatever they like, but Archie stepped up and took responsibility.”
The race for the 5th District, no longer seen as competitive, began to look like a regular campaign. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), who had initially refused to debate Parnell, agreed to a candidate forum that made headlines after Norman joked that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had been “groped by Abraham Lincoln.”
Parnell, who lagged behind Norman in fundraising, nonetheless entered the race’s final weeks with $133,533 on hand, more than any other Democrat seeking a House seat from South Carolina this year. (While Democrats technically have less to spend in the competitive 1st District, party committees have invested in that race.)
Clyburn’s decision to host the fish fry, Wukela said, came at the end of a long reconciliation process.
“We asked, and he said yes,” Wukela said.
One year after the #MeToo movement gained national prominence, a number of candidates have faced abuse or harassment allegations and retained their party’s support.
In Minnesota, Democrats paid for an internal legal probe of allegations that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) had once pulled his ex-girlfriend Karen Monahan off their bed during an argument. After the probe found no evidence of abuse, Democrats continued to support Ellison’s bid for attorney general.
“I do not believe her,” Minnesota party Chairman Ken Martin said of Monahan’s allegations. “I believe our investigation.”
In Kansas, Republicans have stood by Steve Watkins, whose campaign for Congress has been dogged by allegations that he inflated his résumé and that he had committed sexual misconduct.
“These charges are so preposterous they don’t deserve the dignity of a response or publication, but Republicans face this kind of assault from the media every day,” Watkins said last week.
And in Ohio, Democrats have roundly denounced Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio), the Republican challenging Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), for running ads about the senator’s divorce records, which included an allegation that he had pinned his ex-wife against a wall during an argument.
Brown’s ex-wife, Larke Recchie, recorded a TV ad describing how she reconciled with Brown and had called on Renacci to stop discussing the divorce. Renacci nonetheless brought up the divorce record in all three of his televised debates with Brown. Polling has shown Renacci down by double digits.
“Congressman Renacci will be quickly forgotten following the most pathetic campaign in Ohio history,” Brown campaign manager Justin Barasky said last week.