Archie Parnell has challenged incumbent Rep. Ralph Norman to 11 public debates before the Nov. 6 U.S. House election.
The Sumter Democrat lost to Norman (R-Rock Hill) in the June 2017 special election to replace Mick Mulvaney. The race was one of the closest congressional races in South Carolina in 20 years.
Norman was not immediately available Tuesday for comment.
Parnell said Norman didn’t attend several debates scheduled during the 2017 campaign season.
“It was clear to me at the time that Mr. Norman was afraid to look voters in the eyes and answer tough questions about his plans to raise social security retirement age and to cut Medicare benefits — and to answer questions about his votes against flood relief for farmers devastated by the historic 2015 floods,” Parnell said Tuesday during a press conference in Sumter.
“Last year, Ralph Norman got away with dodging tough questions about his record, but we won’t let him do it again.”
Parnell proposed 11 debates, one in each county represented in the 5th Congressional District.
“Congressman Norman has said before he wants this campaign to be about the issues,” Parnell said. “Well, this is his chance. Personally, I don’t think he will.”
S.C. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) joined Parnell in calling for the debates. She said Norman needs to speak with voters who may be negatively affected by tariffs on U.S. exports imposed by China in response to President Donald Trump's trade policies, including BMW suppliers in her district.
“(Norman) has professed himself to be a strong supporter of President Trump...,” Cobb-Hunter said. “Voters in the 5th District would be very interested in knowing just how far Congressman Norman’s support for President Trump goes.”
The press conference Tuesday was Parnell’s first since winning the Democratic primary, and since physical abuse allegations against Parnell came to light. Parnell has admitted he hit his then-wife and one other person in the 1970s. The incident surfaced in his divorce records from 1974.
Cobb-Hunter, who said she has been in the social work field for many years, said it's time to move on.
“It happened one time,” she said of the abuse incident. “There is a difference, in the work that I do, in a pattern and in an isolated incident.”
Dee Woodward, president of the Sumter County League of Women Voters, said her organization is non-partisan and supports public debate.
“Our goal as a league is to tell people to get out and vote,” Woodward said. “...We want Ralph Norman and we want Archie Parnell to get together and hold a debate so that the people, the voters, know exactly what they are to do based on their platforms.”
Cobb-Hunter said Norman, as a sitting congressman, should be available to all voters.
Norman has made recent appearances in the region. He met last week with Lancaster members of the Republican party. Monday he was in Tega Cay for the announcement of a new drug disposal program.
“I join with Archie Parnell, with the League of Women Voters and all voters in this district regardless of their political stripes in encouraging you to don’t be a chicken, Ralph,” Cobb-Hunter said. “Come on out. You’re a man of your word, you believe in what you say — show the voters in the Fifth Congressional District that you’re not scared of Archie Parnell.”