The campaign trail of U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., focused at the end of the week on a statement he made that female Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg accused Abraham Lincoln of groping …
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The campaign trail of U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., focused at the end of the week on a statement he made that female Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg accused Abraham Lincoln of groping her.
Norman later said on his campaign Facebook page that the comment was a joke referencing a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. His confirmation process is currently centered on Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto University professor, and her allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.
Norman made the comment during a debate in Rock Hill against Democratic challenger Archie Parnell, whom Norman has cast a negative light on for his own domestic violence case from 45 years ago. Norman and Parnell are running to represent the state's 5th Congressional District, which covers parts of Sumter and Lee counties.
In May, The Post and Courier of Charleston obtained divorce records from 1973 in which Parnell's ex-wife accused him of beating her during his first marriage.
A Sumter resident, Parnell admitted the revelations from decades ago were true but also said he wouldn't drop out of the June primary — despite calls to withdraw even from leaders in his own party. He captured 60 percent of the June 12 primary votes.
Since then, Norman and his campaign team have noted Parnell's "dishonesty" and "lack of transparency" for not making the domestic violence case public before the paper published it and his own party's concern about his candidacy.
The Parnell team and Democrats, in general, took exception to Norman's comments about Ginsburg, who is often considered the Supreme Court's leading liberal dissenter.
Michael Wukela, Parnell's campaign spokesman, said Parnell has taken responsibility for his actions but that Norman doesn't take any responsibility.
"Ralph Norman can say anything he wants about Archie's actions from 45 years ago," Wukela said, "but the truth is Archie has always taken responsibility for his actions. He took responsibility then, and he takes responsibility now, while these guys are out there making jokes."
Norman opened Thursday's luncheon debate — organized by the Kiwanis Club of Rock Hill for its members and their guests — with the comment. The event was not a public debate, but the media was invited to attend.
"Did y'all hear this late-breaking news from the Kavanaugh hearings?" Norman said during his opening remarks, according to The Post and Courier. "Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln."
Parnell didn't immediately address the remark on stage, but he rebuked his opponent in a statement to the paper after the debate.
"My opponent apparently thinks sexual assault is a joke. It is not," Parnell said. "But I guess that's the best we can expect from someone who pulled a loaded gun on his own constituents."
At a constituent meet and greet this spring, Norman pulled out a loaded handgun and placed it on the table in an effort to make a point that firearms are only dangerous if used by criminals.
South Carolina Democrats also quickly condemned Norman's remarks at the debate.
"Ralph Norman just proved he may be rich, but he doesn't have any class," Trav Robertson, the state's Democratic Party chairman, said in a tweet Thursday. "Inappropriate doesn't describe his remarks."
No other debates on calendar
The Rock Hill debate Thursday between Norman and Parnell is the only one that has occurred to date and the lone one on the calendar as of this time, according to both campaign teams.
Event organizers with the League of Women Voters of Sumter County and Limestone College in Gaffney previously told The Sumter Item they tried to contact the Norman team for proposed debates against Parnell but that the team never responded.
Attempts by The Sumter Item to contact Norman's campaign team by phone and email on multiple occasions during the last several weeks regarding specific responses to the proposed debates were largely unsuccessful.
A member of Norman's team, Walter Whetsell, who was previously his chief of staff, did issue a statement on Aug. 17.
In that email, Norman said his values and political beliefs were no secret and that he would be happy to defend the progress the U.S. is making, but he also took a negative tone toward Parnell.
"State and national Democrats have rescinded every meaningful endorsement of Mr. Parnell and made it clear how isolated and ineffective he would be if elected," Norman said. "Mr. Parnell has now chosen to employ a campaign strategy that is little more than misguided potshots at me.
"While I am happy to highlight the stark differences between the two of us in a public forum, the only debate Mr. Parnell should be concerned with now is the debate raging within the Democrat Party regarding his own dishonesty and lack of transparency."
In a campaign stop at USC Sumter for Constitution Day on Wednesday night, Norman mentioned the Thursday debate in Rock Hill and said he wasn't personally aware of proposed debates in Sumter and Gaffney. He said his time leading up to the election was limited and would be spent with constituents.
When he reviewed the Aug. 17 statement from his team and was asked about it, Norman told The Sumter Item, "That speaks for itself."
Wukela, from the Parnell team, said the Democratic challenger will continue to ask for public debates.
The general election is set for Nov. 6.
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