Jim Clyburn cancels appearance with SC House candidate plagued by scandal

Rep. Jim Clyburn will no longer be appearing at the final campaign event of Archie Parnell, the South Carolina Democrat who appeared to have a chance of flipping a Republican-held district before revelations of domestic violence in his past.

Clyburn — the assistant House Democratic Leader, highest-ranking black member of Congress and South Carolina party kingmaker — announced on Wednesday evening he was pulling out of his planned attendance at Parnell’s fish fry in Sumter.

“In view of the misrepresentations of the purpose of the end-of-the-campaign fish fry in my district and hometown of Sumter, SC, I will not attend the event and I still do not endorse Archie Parnell,” Clyburn tweeted. “The goodness of America is on the ballot this year, and I will spend the next five days (before the midterms) continuing my work to elect Democratic candidates.”

Clyburn told The Charleston Post and Courier earlier in the day Wednesday that he had not been invited to the fish fry by Parnell, but by young Democratic volunteers.

But the circumstances might be more complicated than that.

In July, Clyburn suggested in an extensive interview with McClatchy that he was struggling with how to respond to new revelations that Parnell, in 1973, had broken into an apartment with a tire iron and beat his then-wife.

Clyburn had been one of Parnell’s most dedicated backers during the June 2017 special election in the 5th Congressional District. Parnell had only lost to the now-incumbent, Republican Rep. Ralph Norman, by three percentage points.

Clyburn told McClatchy he had not pressured Parnell to drop out of the race but leveled with him about his chances in a 2018 rematch against Norman given the severity of the reports. Yet Clyburn also said that as a Christian and son of a preacher, he said he “always believed one can be redeemed.”

Parnell has remarried, and he and his now-wife of 40 years have two grown daughters. He did not deny he had beat his ex-wife but said he received counseling afterward.

In another interview in September, Clyburn told McClatchy he was overseeing an extensive get-out-the-vote operation throughout South Carolina, which was being deployed in the Democratic campaigns of James Smith, who is running for governor, Joe Cunningham, who is running in the 1st Congressional District, and Parnell.

When asked specifically if he would campaign for Parnell ahead of the midterms, Clyburn said, “well, if he asks me to. He has not asked me to.”

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Pressed on whether he would agree to campaign with him if his presence was requested, Clyburn said, “sure.”

Against the backdrop of Clyburn’s reversal on the Monday night fish fry is the fact that the 78-year-old lawmaker could make a bid for speaker, if Democrats take back the House and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, does not have the support to ascend to the top position herself.

The National Republican Campaign Committee signaled it would not let people forget that Clyburn planned to campaign alongside a perpetrator of domestic violence.

“Congressman Clyburn’s actions aren’t just hypocritical, they’re disgusting,” said NRCC Communications Director Matt Gorman on Tuesday. “The NRCC calls on him to apologize and cancel the event.”

Clyburn is not, however, the only Democrat who has at certain points over the past several months signaled he might be willing to bring Parnell back into the party fold.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, the current chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus with whom Clyburn is particularly close, contributed $1,000 to the Parnell campaign on Oct. 2.

And Wednesday evening, hours after Clyburn had announced he would no longer attend Parnell’s fish fry, the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee’s independent expenditure arm tweeted, “We are proud to endorse (Parnell) for Congress in SC 5th district. He will fight for fair wages, affordable health care and equal justice for all.”

In August, State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a Democratic National Committeewoman who has continued to back Parnell, told McClatchy that many African-Americans appreciated Parnell’s narrative of second chances.

“As a tradition, we tend to support underdogs. I know I do,” Cobb-Hunter said of black Democrats. “Black people are traditionally very forgiving and we believe in a God of second chances.”

Parnell’s campaign did not comment on the change of plans but emphasized the event was still taking place.

Emma Dumain: 202-383-6126, @Emma_Dumain