Dem Congressional Candidate Refuses to Leave Race Following Revelation He Physically Abused Ex-Wife

Democratic congressional candidate Archie Parnell / Getty Images
May 22, 2018

Archie Parnell, a Democratic congressional candidate in South Carolina, has pushed back against calls for him to drop out of the 5th Congressional District race after his aides confronted him last week with court records showing he inflicted "acts of physical cruelty" against his ex-wife in the 1970s.

Parnell's ex-wife,  Kathleen Parnell, said their marriage fell apart in 1973 after her husband made "unwarranted accusations" and became violent, according to divorce records obtained by the Post and Courier.

In October 1973, Archie Parnell, then a University of South Carolina student, was locked out of some friends' apartment to protect Kathleen Parnell, who was staying there. At 2 a.m., Archie Parnell used a tire iron to break a glass door, the complaint said. He made more unspecified accusations to Kathleen Parnell before striking her several times. She said she was beaten again later that evening.

After the "acts of physical cruelty," Kathleen Parnell said she feared for her life and did not want to stay married. She obtained a restraining order against Archie Parnell after seeking the divorce, according to court documents. The divorce was finalized in early 1974.

Confronted with the court records by aides last week, Parnell did not deny the allegations. But even as his staff fled the campaign en masse, he refused to drop out of the race Monday.

Parnell received a glowing profile piece from Politico last year and was touted as the "best Democratic campaign of 2017" after he nearly defeated Ralph Norman, the Republican congressman he is now trying to unseat. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $275,000 on the special election last year, which was called to fill the seat left open when President Donald Trump nominated Mick Mulvaney to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

"This campaign has always been about the people of the 5th district, my home, but never about me," Parnell said in a statement. "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.

"These actions were inexcusable, wrong and downright embarrassing," Parnell added. "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."

Maddie Anderson, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, slammed Parnell, calling the revelations of his abuse "disturbing."

"Someone needs to give domestic abuser Archie Parnell a strong dose of reality – these disturbing revelations are disqualifying, to say the least," said Anderson in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. "Let me be clear: every second that Archie Parnell stays in the race is offensive to women everywhere, and incredibly damaging to Democrats. The fact that he ever thought he deserved a seat in Congress is nauseating."

Yates Baroody, a former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee operative who was managing Parnell's campaign, resigned last Friday after she learned what was contained in the divorce records.

"As soon as I discovered them, I immediately resigned from the campaign and advised Archie he should withdraw from the campaign immediately," Baroody told the Post and Courier. "He has no business running for Congress and he never did."

South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson also told Parnell he should drop out of the race.

"In light of this sad revelation, Archie Parnell has no choice but to withdraw from the race for the 5th Congressional District," Robertson said in a news release. "His actions, though long ago, directly contradict the values of the Democratic Party."

As a prolific fundraiser, Parnell has received endorsements from several of South Carolina's most prominent Democratic leaders, but there has been mounting pressure for him to drop out of the race.

Democratic former state Rep. Bakari Sellers, now a CNN political commentator, withdrew his endorsement of Parnell and said he should drop out of the race. While some actions can be forgiven, Sellers said, domestic violence is not one of them.

"Archie does not belong in the United States Congress or on the ballot," Sellers said. "Politically, it's one less chance for Democrats to take back the House, but who cares when it comes to issues such as domestic violence?"

"What Archie Parnell did is inexcusable and deeply disturbing, and he should drop out of this race immediately," said DCCC communications director Meredith Kelly.

There are three other Democratic candidates running in the primary, but none of them are considered strong contenders to unseat Norman. One of the Democratic candidates, Steve Lough, has garnered attention because of his work background as a professional clown.