The international civic group Kiwanis that organized a debate Thursday between U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman and a challenger blasted a joke that Norman told to open the debate.
Norman’s joke, that a sitting Supreme Court justice was “groped,” was “not funny” and in “poor taste,” the group said in a prepared statement Friday morning.
The joke Norman, a Rock Hill Republican who represents the 5th District of South Carolina, said was: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.”
The Kiwanis Club, which organized the debate between Norman and Democrat challenger Archie Parnell of Sumter, issued a statement saying it was “disappointed” with Norman’s “joke.”
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The Kiwanis club stated that the joke “absolutely does not reflect the values of our club.”
A “very small minority” of audience members laughed, Kiwanis said in the statement, based on video and audio recordings.
The sexual assault quip that the Kiwanis Club slammed as not representative of their values instantly became a national news story after The Herald posted a video of the joke.
The video has been viewed more than 20,000 times by Friday morning.
National news outlets CBS, Roll Call, NBC and others reported the story after The Herald and other regional outlets covered the debate.
The reaction brought several Twitter comments from Norman, who urged the public to “lighten up.”
“My comments earlier today were meant to add a bit of levity to a very serious debate between me and my Democrat opponent and to point to the circus-like atmosphere that Washington DC has become. People really need to learn to lighten up,” Norman said on Twitter.
Parnell slammed Norman on Twitter, writing “My opponent apparently thinks sexual assault is a joke. It is not. But I guess that’s the best we can expect from someone who pulled a loaded gun on his own constituents.”
Norman was a national story earlier this year, after he showed a loaded gun during a constituent meeting.
The full statement from Kiwanis International governor Mary Jo Brubaker reads:
“The Kiwanis Club of Rock Hill sponsored a debate between Rep. Ralph Norman and Archie Parnell, candidates for the 5th Congressional District on Sept. 20, 2018. Our intent for hosting this debate was to provide a public service. To our knowledge, it is the only debate scheduled between these two candidates during this election cycle. We believe that this debate provided citizens with essential information regarding who the candidates are, what they believe, and what their positions are on important issues.
“The Kiwanis Club organized this event primarily based on the following two of Kiwanis International major objectives: Object 4: To develop, by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive and serviceable citizenship. Object 6: To cooperate in creating and maintaining that sound public opinion and high idealism which make possible the increase of righteousness, justice, patriotism and good will.
“The club was disappointed with Rep. Norman’s joke about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, alleging she had been groped by Abraham Lincoln. The joke was not funny, it was in poor taste, and it absolutely does not reflect the values of our club. Video and audio recordings of the debate clearly demonstrate that a very small minority of the audience laughed or clapped at his joke. The audience included club members and their guests, as well as a number of guests invited directly by the two campaigns.”
Check back for updates on this story.