Democrats call on top House candidate in South Carolina to exit after violent past surfaces

Democratic congressional candidate Archie Parnell places a campaign sign in the grass June 19, 2017 in Bishopville, South Carolina.

Washington (CNN)A top Democratic House candidate in South Carolina is refusing to withdraw from the race after admitting on Monday to abusing his ex-wife.

Archie Parnell, who is running to unseat Republican Rep. Ralph Norman in South Carolina's 5th Congressional District, nearly won the special election against Norman in 2017 and is running again this cycle. However, after the The Post and Courier surfaced court documents that detailed past violent behavior from Parnell, local and national Democrats who have backed his candidacy are now calling on him to drop out. The primary election takes place on June 12.
According to Richland County Court documents obtained by CNN, Parnell's ex-wife said her marriage deteriorated in 1973 after two years together. Richland County divorce records show that Parnell's ex-wife accused her then-husband of attacking and beating her in October 1973. She said this caused her to fear for her life and she obtained a restraining order against Parnell. Their divorce was finalized in 1974.
The documents were first reported by The Post and Courier.
    Parnell did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment. He admitted to becoming violent with his wife and called his past behavior "inexcusable" in a statement to The Post and Courier but said that he has changed in the time since the incident.
    "This campaign has always been about the people of the 5th District, my home, but never about me," Parnell said in a statement, according to The Post and Courier.
    "Forty-five years ago, while still a college student, I did something that I have regretted every single day since. In response to actions I feel unnecessary to specify, I lashed out and became violent with other people, including my former wife, which led to a divorce and monumental change in my life," Parnell said.
    "These actions were inexcusable, wrong and downright embarrassing," he said. "Since then, my life has been changed by a remarkable woman, two amazing daughters, a forgiving God and a career that has taught me to cherish what I have."
    Yates Baroody, Parnell's campaign manager, quit on Friday after uncovering the documents.
    "We were told that Republicans had some information on Archie that could be damaging, once that came to light, it wouldn't be good," Baroody told CNN. "We decided that we needed to get those documents so I personally did the research and found it at the courthouse."
    Baroody said that she and the only other paid staffer, Parnell's finance director, resigned immediately after confronting Parnell about the documents and he refused to listen to their advice to drop out of the race.
    "I called Archie and let him know about the contents of the documents. I said you have to resign from this race. And when he did not immediately tell me that this was his plan to, I said that I cannot help you anymore," Baroody said. "I made very clear to him that there was no longer a path to victory but he still insisted that he thought there was."
    Baroody isn't the only one calling on Parnell to step aside.
    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had placed the 5th Congressional District on its target list for 2018 after Parnell lost by barely 3 points last year, is calling on him to drop out immediately.
    "What Archie Parnell did is inexcusable and deeply disturbing, and he should drop out of this race immediately," Meredith Kelly, DCCC Communications Director, told CNN.
    Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who endorsed Parnell and campaigned in the district with him previously, rescinded his endorsement late Monday night via tweet.
    "I was deeply disturbed by recent revelations surrounding @Archie4Congress's past behavior. Regardless of when these incidents happened, they are appalling and unacceptable. I am rescinding my endorsement and call on him to immediately end his campaign for Congress," Ryan tweeted.
    South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson is also calling on Parnell to step aside.
    "In light of this sad revelation, Archie Parnell has no choice but to withdraw from the race for the 5th Congressional District," Trav Robertson said in a news release. "His actions, though long ago, directly contradict the values of the Democratic Party."
    Former South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman and current DNC Associate Chair Jaime Harrison shared similar thoughts with his successor in a tweet.
    "This is truly a sad situation. Nonetheless, I've been asked my thoughts by several folks. I agree with Chairman @TravRobertson & believe that Archie should withdraw from the race. The publicity today must be devastating for his former wife & his current family. [Prayers] to them."
    Parnell and Norman have been neck-and-neck in fundraising efforts throughout 2018. At the end of the first quarter of the year, Parnell had slightly more cash on hand than Norman. Parnell had donated $90,000 to his own campaign.
    Three other Democrats are competing in the primary, but Parnell was long seen as the front runner and none of the challengers have the resources, name recognition or money to match Parnell, a former Goldman Sachs adviser.
    Even if Parnell were to drop out in the coming days, his name will still appear on the June 12 primary ballot. According to Chris Whitmire, a spokesperson for the South Carolina State Election Commission, it's too late now to remove Parnell's name.
    "Absentee ballots are out and people are already in-person absentee voting all over the state," Whitmire told CNN.