Republican Sean Parnell suspended his Senate campaign in Pennsylvania Monday, hours after a judge granted custody of his children to his estranged wife, who accused Parnell of verbal and physical abuse. Parnell, an Army veteran, has denied the accusations.
Parnell’s decision to suspend his campaign shakes up the competitive GOP primary to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey. Parnell was a frontrunner in the race thanks in part to earning former President Donald Trump’s endorsement in September.
The accusations of abuse came to light during a custody battle between Parnell and his estranged wife, Laurie Snell. Snell testified that Parnell choked her and verbally abused her, and that he had hit their children. Parnell also testified in the trial and denied those accusations.
The judge presiding over the case granted Snell primary physical custody and sole legal custody of the children on Monday. Judge James Arner wrote that Parnell was “less believable,” and concluded Parnell had committed “some acts of abuse in the past,” but not in recent years, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"I strongly disagree with the ruling today and I'm devastated by the decision. I plan on asking the court to reconsider this decision,” Parnell said in a statement late Monday afternoon.
“In the order, two of the leading factors that weighed heavily in the judge's decision revolved around me being a leading U.S. Senate candidate. There is nothing more important to me than my children, and while I plan to ask the court to reconsider, I can't continue with a Senate campaign,” Parnell said. “My focus right now is 100% on my children, and I want them to know I do not have any other priorities and will never stop fighting for them."
The other top GOP candidates in the open Senate race include real estate developer Jeff Bartos; Carla Sands, who served as Trump’s ambassador to Denmark; and Kathy Barnette, an activist who lost the 4th District House race last year. Both Bartos and Sands have leveraged their personal wealth in their campaigns, loaning their campaigns $1.2 million and $3.1 million respectively.
Candidates have until March 8 to file for the May 17 primary, so other GOP hopefuls could still jump in the race. One potential contender is Dr. Mehmet Oz, a controversial television doctor, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Pennsylvania is a top target for Democrats looking to retain control of the Senate. President Joe Biden won the Keystone State by just 1 percentage point in 2020. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Pennsylvania as one of eight Senate battlegrounds.