Archie Parnell, a South Carolina candidate and once thought of as Democrats' best hope at flipping a congressional district in the deeply red state, easily won the party’s nomination on Tuesday — but he won’t have the support of the DCCC or the South Carolina Democratic Party this year after domestic abuse allegations surfaced against the candidate.
Just a year after national and local Democrats enthusiastically backed Parnell’s campaign, his refusal to withdraw from the race in light of the allegations has splintered the local Democratic party and sunk enthusiasm that the district might flip in November.
Shortly before the primary, Parnell campaign staffers and reporters at the Post and Courier revealed domestic abuse allegations against the candidate. According to divorce filings from 1970s, Parnell was accused of breaking a glass door at a friend’s apartment and physically abusing his ex-wife.
The candidate and what remains of his campaign — his staff mostly quit after the allegations — insist he is the best candidate, ignoring calls inside and outside South Carolina for him to withdraw from the race.
“The truth of the matter is that this campaign was never about the state party or the DCCC. It’s about the people of the 5th Congressional District,” Parnell’s communications director, Michael Wukela, told BuzzFeed News over a phone call reiterating a statement similar to one Parnell made in a video announcing that he wouldn’t withdraw from Tuesday’s election.
Parnell called Tuesday night's election results — he still won 60% of the vote — “a clear message” that “you don’t have to be defined by your worst mistake. You don’t have to be cast aside. You are not alone. You can be better. And, together, we can be better.”
But the news earlier this summer abruptly ended the swell of national support for his campaign. The race will be a rematch of last year’s special election for the seat, previously held by Mick Mulvaney — a special election that Parnell narrowly lost in 2017. As such, previously, the DCCC had added the district to its list of battleground districts, following his near win when DCCC spent $275,000. Following the allegations, the South Carolina Democratic Party, the DCCC, and other prominent Democrats in the state — including Rep. Jim Clyburn and former state representative Bakari Sellers — withdrew their support for Parnell.
"What Archie Parnell did is inexcusable and deeply disturbing, and he should drop out of this race immediately," Meredith Kelly, DCCC communications director, said in a statement following the allegations.
On Wednesday, DCCC spokesman Tyler Law told BuzzFeed News that the DCCC’s stance “hasn’t changed” and that it wouldn’t spend on the race. On Wednesday, Guy Cecil, the head of the super PAC Priorities USA, tweeted that Parnell has “no business” staying in the race.
More locally, though, the allegations have touched off a contentious and often public debates on social media between Democrats in the district over Parnell’s political future.
“It was shocking, but I think people are starting to calm down now and thinking about what our options are in November,” Ann Puccio, the chair of the Chester County Democratic Party, told BuzzFeed News prior to the election. “I’m a Democrat and a he’s a formidable opponent against Ralph Norman in the general regardless of some allegations from 40 years ago.” She said she had encouraged Parnell to stay in the race.
Over a series of interviews with BuzzFeed News prior to the election, voters in the district on either side (stay in, drop out) have pointed at the other side as being in the minority.
“We all have skeletons in our closet. In the 44 years since the incidents, he has proven to be a good man. He still has my vote,” read one comment on a post that amassed over 800 comments on the future of the election.
“Well he’s lost mine,” another commenter responded.