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5th District candidates fire off attacks, rebuttals

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By Gregory A. Summers

Only five days are left before the Tuesday, June 20, special election, and the race has heated up as Republican Ralph Norman and Democrat Archie Parnell try to lure undecided voters in the 5th Congressional District.
The issues center on Parnell’s voting history in the state and Norman’s unwillingness to participate in two debates.
The State newspaper reported Saturday that the state elections office has no records of Parnell, 66, who registered to vote in his hometown of Sumter in 1972, ever voting in the state until he voted for himself in May’s
Democratic primary.
The former Goldman Sachs tax adviser, who has lived and worked in Asia and Europe, updated his voter registration on Feb. 17 of this year. He filed to run for the open congressional seat March 8.
“Mr. Parnell hasn’t lived in the 5th Congressional District for 40 years, and, for the past 25 years, he’s called China home,” said Norman spokesman R.J. May III. “We are disappointed that Mr. Parnell chose not to engage in the political process in South Carolina.”
Parnell spokesman Michael Wukela answered the GOP criticism, saying the candidate spent his career traveling extensively for work.
“He’s voted in every presidential election since the 1970s, including voting by absentee ballot when he happened to be overseas on Election Day,” Wukela said in a statement. The statement provided no details on where Parnell was registered to vote and cast absentee ballots since 1972, or about his voting record in non-presidential elections.
Asked about the criticism in Columbia on Thursday, Parnell said: “I’ve voted absentee in every presidential election. When I worked for the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., I voted absentee there. The whole thing is just absurd.”
Wukela said if Norman wants to debate voting records, he should have shown up at Monday’s canceled AARP forum. The candidate declined to appear, citing a scheduling conflict.
Norman needs to explain his votes in the S.C. House against farmer flood relief and against support for first responders with PTSD, Wukela said. He said Norman “opposed every state infrastructure project put forward with one exception, the extension of Dave Lyle Boulevard, where he owns property and stands to make millions.”  
Norman said Thursday there was nothing to explain.
“Everybody knows where I stand on the issues. It’s no secret. I prefer to talk with folks one at the time,” he said, in noting there “aren’t enough hours in the day to campaign, as it is.”
AARP South Carolina scheduled a candidate forum that was to be broadcast live Monday. However, the event was canceled after Norman’s campaign said he would not attend, which left Parnell as the only participant.    
Rather than hosting a single-candidate forum in opposition to its nonpartisan approach on voter education, AARP opted to cancel the event.
AARP state director Teresa Arnold said the organization was disappointed that Norman declined the invitation to take part.
“With nearly two out of every three voters expected to be 50 years or older on June 20, they deserve to know where each candidate stands on these important issues,” Arnold said.
Citing another scheduling conflict, Norman was also absent from a June 9 debate hosted by the state NAACP in Rock Hill that included Parnell and third-party hopefuls David Kulma and Josh Thornton. Libertarian candidate Victor Kocher was not included.
A third debate, sponsored by the S.C. Farm Bureau and set for Thursday night in Camden, was also canceled due to Norman’s decision not to participate.
“This is exactly why people feel like they don’t have a say in our government,” Parnell said Thursday, “and that’s why I encourage Mr. Norman to join me on that stage, look the voters in the eye and answer the people’s questions together.”
Money raised and spent
Norman and Parnell collectively have raised more than $2 million and spent a combined $1.7 million in their bids for the 5th District seat, which Mick Mulvaney vacated in February to become White House budget director.
The district includes all or parts of Lancaster, Cherokee, Chester, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lee, Newberry, Spartanburg, Sumter, Union and York counties.
The amount that has been raised and spent is comparable to a regular election cycle, far exceeding most special elections, said political scientist Dr. Karen Kedrowski, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Winthrop University.
“This is far more,” she said, noting that the nonpartisan and nonprofit political data website OpenSecrets.org estimated that the average U.S. House candidate raised $1.6 million and spent $1.4 million in 2016.
“South Carolina is a pretty inexpensive state to campaign in – small media markets with limited reach and lots of personal contact, so $2 million goes a long way,” Kedrowski said.
Norman is the clear money leader in the conservative-leaning voter district. According to mandated disclosure forms filed with the Federal Election Commission last week, the Rock Hill developer has raised almost $1.3 million. This includes $495,000 in loans Norman has taken out for his campaign. He has also spent $1.1 million.
Parnell has raised $763,000 and spent $519,000.
Some of that funding comes from their national parties. The Washington Post reported June 9 that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has given $275,000 to Parnell’s election effort. The National Republican Congressional Committee has added $97,000 to Norman’s campaign coffers.  
Both candidates are trying to woo undecided voters by buying TV ad time in the more expensive Charlotte market.
The 5th District has been held by the GOP since 2010, when Mulvaney, an Indian Land Republican, unseated 14-term Democrat John Spratt. Mulvaney won his 2016 re-election by 20 points.
A recent poll released by Parnell’s campaign says he has cut Norman’s lead from 16 points to 10 points in the last month.
That six-point slice in Norman’s lead, Kedrowski said, along with his $495,000 in loans is a clear indicator of just how competitive the race has become. Still, she said, Parnell faces steep odds.   
“Norman is worried,” she said. “However, he also thinks he will win and eventually be able to raise enough and cover the debt.
“This is a Republican district and the winner will be whoever can turn out the most voters, which is very tough in a special election. Roughly twice as many Republicans voted in the primary as did Democrats,” Kedrowski said. “Parnell will really have to work to get Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to the polls.”
Lancaster County events
Both candidates have made stops in Lancaster County as they entered the final stretch.
Parnell briefly visited with members of the Tuesday’s Heroes veterans coffee club at CrossRidge Café in the Inspiration Ministries Chapel in Indian Land this week. Norman was there about three weeks ago.       
Parnell was also at a Sun City Carolina Lakes home for a reception before a campaign stop in Sumter on Tuesday evening to sign a “Veteran’s Compact” at VFW Post 3034 to demonstrate his support for the nation’s servicemen and women.
“This is personal for me because every time I look at a veteran, I see my father,” said Parnell is a statement. His father was injured in the Pacific during World War II.
Norman made several breakfast stops here Monday during what he called a “listening tour” to visit all 11 counties in the district. He also made multiple stops in Kershaw and Lee counties on Monday. Norman traveled to Chester, Union and Newberry counties Wednesday.
Today, he will stump across the district with former U.S. Sen. Jim Demint, who until recently was president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. They will be joined by Carrie Almond, president of the National Federation of Republican Women. He will be in Sun City at 4 p.m. today for a barbecue social at the Lake House Pavilion.

SCETV forum tonight

South Carolina ETV will broadcast a 5th District candidate forum at 7:30 tonight featuring Democrat Archie Parnell, Republican Ralph Norman, David Kulma of the Green Party and Josh Thornton of the American Party. The moderator is Charles Bierbauer, dean of USC’s College of Information and Communications and a former CNN correspondent.