COLUMBIA — Archie Parnell has gone rogue.
Abandoned by campaign staffers, supporters and Democratic Party leaders, the Sumter Democrat continued to reject calls Tuesday to drop out of a South Carolina congressional race a day after divorce records came to light revealing he physically abused his ex-wife in the 1970s.
Many of Parnell's closest allies expressed profound betrayal. Volunteers lamented the many hours they spent trying to help his campaign under what they now feel to be false pretenses. Financial backers began requesting refunds of campaign contributions.
Democrats now privately fear Parnell's unyielding resistance hurts their efforts to regain a foothold in Republican-dominated South Carolina. The retired Wall Street executive was seen as one of the party's best hopes to flip a seat in the Palmetto State, having come within 3 percent of defeating GOP businessman Ralph Norman in a special election last year.
Parnell could force Democrats into a similar dilemma to the one Republicans faced with Roy Moore in an Alabama Senate race last year.
Moore, a former state supreme court chief justice, refused to drop out despite pleas from fellow Republicans after The Washington Post reported several women had accused him of sexual misconduct. He won the primary despite President Donald Trump and other national party leaders backing his chief rival but went on to lose the general election to Democrat Doug Jones.
As with Moore, Democrats have no recourse to remove Parnell from contention if he does not drop out other than to actively campaign against him in the 5th District, which stretches from Sumter to Rock Hill. Though Parnell was much more popular among Democratic leaders than Moore was with the GOP establishment, he faces a backlash of similar proportions.
Campaign manager Yates Baroody quit on Friday, saying Parnell "has no business running for Congress and he never did." Communications consultant Tyler Jones resigned Tuesday when Parnell continued to insist on staying in the race.
All three Democratic candidates running for governor in South Carolina urged Parnell to drop out. So too did U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, the most powerful Democratic politician in the state.
As quickly as Democrats distanced themselves from Parnell, Republicans latched on to the news.
S.C. GOP Chairman Drew McKissick tweeted that Parnell adds "to the growing list of once-but-no-longer celebrated Democrat feminism boosters," citing former President Bill Clinton, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, ex-congressman Anthony Weiner and former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned just weeks ago immediately after The New Yorker magazine reported on his own history of domestic abuse.
In the wake of Monday night's revelation, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report moved Norman's district from "likely Republican" back to "solid Republican," a clear indication that Democrats' odds of flipping the seat have dramatically diminished.
Three other Democrats are running in the June 12 primary: Mark Ali, Steve Lough and Sidney Moore. None have Parnell's name recognition in the district, nor have they come close to matching him in campaign fundraising. Parnell had more than $400,000 on hand at the end of March.
Now, South Carolina Democrats are expected to turn much of their focus towards the races against U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford, R-Mount Pleasant, and Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach. Both incumbents are still considered the early favorites to hold onto their seats, but Democrats have been encouraged by the viability of several challengers running against them.
According to the 1973 divorce records, Kathleen Parnell accused Archie Parnell of beating her multiple times, including one night in which he used a tire iron to break into an apartment where friends were shielding her from him. While Parnell has recently claimed there were details missing, he did not contest the allegations at the time.
Many political campaigns hire researchers to dig into their own candidate's past, as well as their opponents, to ensure that they can prepare for any negative information that may come out later. But Parnell assured his campaign researcher there were no significant details worth investigating in the divorce records, and he urged them not to dig into it further, sources told The Post and Courier.
Eventually rumors began circulating that Republicans trying to keep Norman in the seat had obtained the divorce documents, so Parnell's campaign aides decided they needed to take a closer look. Once they discovered the contents of the documents last week, they immediately and unanimously told him he needed to drop out of the race, offering to help him do so gracefully.
When he refused, many staffers quit — mortified by the details in the divorce complaint, offended that he had tried to hide it from them, and stunned that he was continuing to dig in his heels.
Eric Graben, former chairman of the Greenville County Democratic Party and a top contender for the party's nomination in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, requested Parnell donate the campaign contribution he gave him to a local domestic violence shelter "and let our state move beyond your embarrassing actions."
Some Democrats argued Parnell's banishment was too harsh for a decades-old incident. But many others said the domestic violence details were too damning to warrant any pardon — especially because the candidate was not upfront about it.
"There's a lot leeway that can be given and a lot of forgiveness that can be had," said former state Rep. Bakari Sellers, now a Democratic political commentator on CNN, "except when it comes to domestic violence."