National and South Carolina Democrats could be stuck with a congressional nominee they refuse to support after the state’s primary Tuesday due to the candidate’s refusal to exit the race after news of his abusive past surfaced.
Archie Parnell, the Democratic candidate who admitted to abusing his ex-wife 45 years ago, announced this week that he is officially staying in the race to win the Democratic nomination in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District.
Parnell was expected to win Tuesday’s primary handily and go on to face incumbent Republican Rep. Ralph Norman. Parnell ran against Norman in the 2017 special election to replace Mick Mulvaney, who left the district to serve in the Trump administration. Parnell lost to Norman by a little under three points, making it one of the closest congressional races in the country last year.
There are three other Democrats running against Parnell in the primary, but they suffer from low name recognition and a lack of funds and resources. Parnell may still win the primary, but party members say they’d still wish for him to drop out and will not change their minds about stripping support.
Parnell’s decision to stay in the race comes after most of his campaign staff left him, both the the national and state Democratic Party called for him to withdraw from the race and local supporters tried to distance themselves from the candidate.
Parnell’s name will appear on the ballot in the South Carolina primary on June 12 no matter what happens between now and then, as people were already voting and ballots were already printed when the news about the abuse broke two weeks ago.
According to the 1973 divorce records that were obtained by CNN, Parnell’s ex-wife accused the then-college student of beating her, including one night in which he used a tire iron to break into an apartment where friends were shielding her from him.
Parnell had remained mostly silent since the story broke, making one public appearance at in his hometown of Sumter at a county party meeting where he briefly apologized. In a video posted to his campaign Facebook page on Wednesday, Parnell broke another long period of silence and apologized to voters for his actions, but said he has decided to stay in the race.
“If I withdraw, I would be telling anyone who makes a terrible mistake that that one terrible mistake will define them for the rest of their lives,” Parnell said in the video. “It is the voters of the 5th District who should decide the outcome of this election and not me or certain Democratic Party officers. We all have the capacity to change and be better.”
Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the South Carolina Democratic Party say their stance calling for Parnell to withdraw his candidacy is not swayed by the candidate’s apology video and they do not plan on reviving their support for him, even if he wins the nomination on Tuesday. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who had campaigned in the district for Parnell, also withdrew his support along with all three Democratic candidates for governor in South Carolina.
Meredith Kelly, the communications director for the DCCC, said that the national democratic organization will not back him regardless of whether or not he wins the primary.
“No, we won’t invest in his campaign,” Kelly said.
The South Carolina Democratic Party referred to a statement released by Chair Trav Robertson after the news broke, which read “In light of this sad revelation, Archie Parnell has no choice but to withdraw from the race for the 5th Congressional District. His actions, though long ago, directly contradict the values of the Democratic Party.”
A spokesman for the state party said, “Our decision hasn’t changed, our stance hasn’t changed, and we don’t expect it to change regardless of the primary result.”
Local Democratic leaders in the district seem to agree. York County Democratic Party Chair Jim Thompson presides over Democrats in the most populous county in the 5th Congressional District and said they all had placed their full support behind Parnell until his abusive past was uncovered, and now they wish for him to withdraw because his previous actions go against what they believe the party stands for.
“He’s a candidate without a campaign,” Thompson said. “I’d rather have no candidate and no campaign than have him. He’s not going to win, and I’m not thrilled about saying that, but that’s the honest reality. He’s going to get beat and he’s going to get beat big.”
CNN’s Eric Bradner contributed to this report