Pennsylvania Republican Sean Parnell is suspending his campaign for Senate after losing a fight for custody of his children Monday to his estranged wife, who had accused him of abuse in court testimony.
Parnell had been endorsed in the race by former President Donald Trump and has been the frontrunner in the Republican primary. Parnell called Trump to inform him of the decision to suspend his campaign, according to a person told about the call.
“I strongly disagree with the ruling today and I’m devastated by the decision,” Parnell said in a statement. “I plan on asking the court to reconsider this decision. In the order, two of the leading factors that weighed heavily in the judge’s decision revolved around me being a leading 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. My focus right now is 100 percent on my children, and I want them to know I do not have any other priorities and will never stop fighting for them.”
In a ruling made public Monday, a judge determined Laurie Snell, the children’s mother, would have sole legal custody, while Parnell’s schedule with them would be limited to three weekends a month, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. That would have made it difficult for Parnell to continue a campaign.
Indeed, Parnell’s campaign has privately said for weeks that the embattled Senate candidate’s future in the race would come down to the judge’s decision.
If he kept custody of his three children, Parnell could have won in Pennsylvania, advisers said. Losing his kids, though, spelled the end of the campaign.
“His kids are old enough that they have weekend commitments and schedules,” said Christopher Nicholas, a Pennsylvania Republican consultant, prior to the news that Parnell suspended his campaign. “Since his time with them is three weekends a month, how could he take care of them and still campaign across the state?”
Meanwhile, Trump had recently expressed disappointment in how his endorsement of Parnell has panned out, including blaming his son Don Jr., a friend of Parnell’s who pushed for the endorsement. According to a person familiar with Trump’s frequent commentary on Parnell, he has been fixated on the situation — both upset at being tied to it, via his support for Parnell, and incredulous about what was going on with his preferred candidate.
But Trump didn’t rescind his support of Parnell earlier this month, despite Snell’s allegations of abuse. The Trump team was planning to move forward with a January fundraiser scheduled for Parnell at Mar-a-Lago.
Pennsylvania is a crucial state for Republicans to win to retake control of the 50-50 Senate in 2022. The GOP is defending the seat currently held by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey, and President Joe Biden won the state in 2020.
Parnell’s exit from the race makes it even likelier that other high-profile Republicans will jump in. Mehmet Oz, the celebrity physician known as “Dr. Oz,” has already begun assembling staff for a potential run in Pennsylvania’s Senate Republican primary. David McCormick, who heads the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, is also in discussions about entering the field.
Former Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), who retired from the House in 2018, is thinking about entering the race and is expected to make a decision soon, according to a source familiar with his plans.
Other Republicans in the race, including Jeff Bartos and Carla Sands, have trailed behind Parnell in polling.
Democrats also face a crowded nominating contest, with a primary field that includes Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, Rep. Conor Lamb and state Sen. Sharif Street.
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.