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Trump-backed Senate candidate Sean Parnell suspends campaign after losing custody battle

Parnell's estranged wife had testified about abuse she says she and occasionally their children endured from him.
Image: Sean Parnell
Sean Parnell speaks May 11 in McCandless, Pa., as he announces his Republican campaign for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat.Steve Mellon / AP file

Sean Parnell, a candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, suspended his campaign after a judge ruled Monday in favor of his estranged wife in a court fight over custody of their three children.

His estranged wife, Laurie Snell, had testified about abuse she said she and occasionally their children endured from him.

"I strongly disagree with the ruling today and I'm devastated by the decision," Parnell said in a statement, adding, "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."

A Butler County judge wrote in a docket entry Monday that Snell would have sole legal custody and primary physical custody of the couple's three children; Parnell was granted physical custody three weekends a month, The Associated Press reported.

Parnell forcefully denied Snell's allegations of abuse under oath, but the judge, James Arner, wrote that she was "the more credible witness," The AP reported. She testified that Parnell once choked her to the point that she had to bite him to break free and that he had once slapped one of their three children hard enough on the back to leave marks.

Both were seeking primary custody.

Parnell informed Trump of his decision to quit the GOP primary before he made the announcement, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said on Twitter. Politico first reported the discussion.

"#PASen remains a top priority for Pres. Trump & the '22 MAGA Map — rallying our movement behind the best America 1st candidate remains critical," Budowich said.

Parnell, a decorated former Army Ranger-turned-author and frequent Fox News guest who launched his Senate bid in May after he narrowly lost a House race in 2020, won Trump's endorsement in September, becoming the early front-runner in a critical race for GOP hopes to take back the Senate.

But Snell's testimony put Republicans on edge, NBC News has reported. In an interview this month, a Parnell ally made it clear that supporters were waiting on the custody ruling before they determined whether to cut ties.

"This is very black and white to me," the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity to candidly assess the situation. "If he loses custody of his kids, the campaign is over for him. But if he keeps custody, I truly believe he will survive, win the primary with ease and then defeat the Democrat in the general."

Other Republicans running include Jeff Bartos, a former nominee for lieutenant governor; Carla Sands, Trump's former ambassador to Denmark; and Kathy Barnette, who ran a failed congressional bid last fall.

Parnell's departure could also bring other rumored candidates off the sidelines in the race to replace Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is not seeking re-election.

"Pennsylvania's Republican Senate primary is in chaos," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein said in a statement, adding that "the vicious infighting amongst Republicans in Pennsylvania is sure to intensify, just like it has in Senate races across the country."

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Rep. Conor Lamb, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh and others are seeking the Democratic nomination.