After front-runner Archie Parnell was accused of abusing his then-wife in the 1970s, his Democratic primary opponents in S.C.'s 5th District congressional race may see a boost to their campaigns.
The Sumter Democrat narrowly lost to now U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-York, in the 2018 special election — one of the closest congressional races in South Carolina in 20 years.
Now, Parnell's Democratic opponents — Mark Ali, Steve Lough and Sidney Moore — may have a better-than-expected chance of winning their party's nomination, especially after several of Parnell's key campaign staffers resigned.
Lough, a former professional clown, said he was shocked by the news but thought of former USC football coach Steve Spurrier's zero-tolerance rule for domestic violence on the Gamecocks.
"I'm just a circus clown," Lough said. "But if he would've gotten kicked off Steve Spurrier's football team, he shouldn't be running for Congress."
Lough said Parnell, who has not withdrawn from the race despite numerous calls for him to quit, has been fortunate to have had a successful career and family after the abuse allegations, but he is not sure Parnell's campaign can weather this storm.
"He keeps talking about redemption," Lough said. "But, to me, it seems like the redemption he's talking about is the fact that that one incident didn't completely ruin his life."
Moore, a former York County Council member, said he never put much stock in Parnell's "front-runner" status. He said he always thought Parnell was a weak candidate — and that a strong Democratic candidate would have beaten Norman in the 2017 special election.
"Unfortunately, the matter has become a huge distraction," Moore said in a message.
"There is a good deal of anger, angst and frustration being expressed on the York County Democratic Party Facebook page and website. I am a bit surprised that Parnell did not make an advanced accommodation with party officials. As the party favorite for U. S. House of Representatives, S.C. District 5, I had assumed there was a better line of communications."
Ali, a former undocumented immigrant, said many Democrats in the 5th District are feeling disappointed, hurt and betrayed. But he said there are still three other Democratic candidates in the running.
"I, for one, am not ready to give up on the people of congressional District 5," Ali said in a statement. "I believe in overcoming adversity, disappointment and challenges — I know, because I've had my fair share throughout life. It's not going to be easy, but it will be most rewarding once we cross the finish line."
Moore said the revelation of abuse allegations against his opponent won't change his campaign style.
"Whatever is decided, I intend to continue pursuing support from voters who expect to participate in the June 12th primary election," Moore said.
Republican Norman himself raised controversy earlier in the race after taking out his loaded gun at a constituent meeting. Parnell and the other Democratic candidates condemned Norman's actions then.
The Democratic primary will be held June 12. The general election is Nov. 6.
"Don't count us out just yet," Ali said. "We still have a lot of work ahead of us and it will be an uphill battle, but we can still make an impact both in the June and November election."