2022 midterms

Trump’s Senate Candidate in Pennsylvania Quits After Losing Child-Custody Case

Sean Parnell at a Trump rally in 2020. Photo: Keith Srakocic/AP/Shutterstock

Donald Trump’s elaborate plans to play kingmaker in the 2022 Republican primaries took a big hit on Monday when his handpicked Senate candidate from Pennsylvania, Sean Parnell, suspended his campaign after losing a child-custody fight that brought to light a lot of nasty allegations from his ex-wife. The county judge who heard the case said he found Laurie Snell more credible than Parnell after hearing all the testimony. But the political damage to Parnell may have been done earlier, as the Washington Examiner noted:

The domestic abuse allegations spilled into the public eye when Parnell’s request to seal the divorce and custody proceedings was denied …

In court testimony, Snell accused Parnell of pinning her down and choking her as well as striking one of their children. She also alleged he once left her along a highway and told her to get an abortion while she was pregnant. Parnell denied those allegations in court.

Snell also alleged Parnell had an affair during their marriage with his now-girlfriend, Melanie Rawley, who testified in court she believed the couple was separated when the relationship began.

None of this was helpful for a candidate aspiring to represent the alleged family values party in a tough statewide contest. Had Parnell won the custody fight, he might have weathered the scandal sparked by what his estranged wife had to say. But that’s moot now. The judge even seemed to be pointing the way to a withdrawal as a way for Parnell to salvage some parental rights, as the Washington Post observed:

In the custody ruling, the judge said he took into consideration Parnell’s Senate run — which would require frequent travel as he campaigns — and wrote that Parnell “expects to win the election and to reside parts of the year in Washington, D.C.” Snell, meanwhile, has maintained her residence in the area where the children are already attending school.

Parnell had been widely considered the front-runner in the Republican contest to hang onto the seat being vacated by Pat Toomey next year. A decorated Army ranger who served in Afghanistan, Parnell co-wrote a memoir of his war years that got him a lot of admiring attention, frequent appearances on Fox News, and a speaking gig at the 2020 Republican National Convention. He narrowly lost to incumbent Democratic representative Conor Lamb (now also running for the Senate) in a 2020 contest, but harvested a Trump endorsement for the statewide race on September 1.

Parnell’s disaster was good news for the Republican rivals already in the field; developer Jeff Bartos (who gained name ID as the unsuccessful GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018) will probably replace him as the front-runner. But it might be even better news for TV physician Mehmet Oz, who has parachuted into Pennsylvania recently and is mulling a Senate candidacy of his own. Oz has a lot in common with the 45th president (who appeared on Oz’s show in 2016 and then apparently took the doctor’s advice to champion hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment in 2020). If Oz can unearth some previously hidden enthusiasm for Trump’s Big Lie about the last presidential election, and in general go MAGA, he might be a good prospect to get a Trump endorsement on the rebound from Parnell and parlay his wealth and name ID into a serious candidacy.

Democrats have their own robust Senate primary featuring Lamb and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. The general election is expected to be a barn burner, and Toomey’s is a seat Republicans really need to hold if they want to flip control of the Senate.

Trump’s Candidate in Pennsylvania Senate Race Drops Out