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Parnell Announces Candidacy For Pennsylvania Senate Seat

Republican Sean Parnell launched his U.S. Senate campaign on May 11.
Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA
Republican Sean Parnell launched his U.S. Senate campaign on May 11.

Sean Parnell, a decorated Army veteran whose regular guest on Fox News programs helped make him a favorite of former President Donald Trump, announced his candidacy Tuesday for the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat.

"The fight for the heart and soul of this country is Pennsylvania. It is ground zero," he said to a crowd of supporters in McCandless Tuesday evening. "Together we are going to win in 2022. We are going to win Pennsylvania and we are going to save America."

Parnell, who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb in western Pennsylvania last year, has spent weeks saying he was considering a run. On Tuesday, he updated his social media accounts with a campaign logo for Senate ahead of an announcement in late Tuesday afternoon in suburban Pittsburgh.

"My whole life has been about serving this country, and ladies and gentlemen I've got to tell you America is on the brink," he said. "This country stands on a very thin line between hope and darkness. Your taxes are rising, our debt and deficit is skyrocketing. Our border is flooded. Our energy industry is being crushed."

The Republican said that conservative freedoms are at risk ever since Democrats regained control of the U.S. Senate following the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs.

"Our second amendment is under assault, our first amendment is too. The Democrats aren't shy about their agenda; they are talking about packing the Supreme Court. They're talking about [Washington] D.C. statehood, so that they can have a permanent majority in the United States Senate. They are talking about nuking the filibuster which would remove any dissent from a minority voice in the Senate. They’re not shy, ladies and gentlemen, and let me tell you this: It is our duty and responsibility in 2022 to stop them."

Parnell is an Army combat veteran who served in Afghanistan and went on to write a memoir on the war in Afghanistan and author two action novels. He became a staunch ally of Trump during his candidacy last year. He adopted Trump’s law-and-order rhetoric, got regular campaign stump shoutouts from Trump and picked a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention. Trump has not made an endorsement in the race, and Parnell will not face an open field, as it stands now.

Rather, he could face a stiff primary contest against a candidate with personal wealth and connections to longtime GOP donors. But in a party where loyalty to Trump is of prime importance, Parnell may be uniquely positioned. In the congressional race, Parnell showed his mettle in fundraising, raising nearly $4 million before he lost narrowly to Lamb in a politically divided district running from Pittsburgh’s upscale suburbs through former steel towns along the Ohio River to the Ohio border.

Parnell later joined a post-election lawsuit in an attempt to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's victory in Pennsylvania's presidential election. That lawsuit — which sought to throw out 2.5 million mail-in ballots, most of which were cast by Democrats — was rejected by the state Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court later declined to take it up.

The Senate seat in the presidential battleground state is being left open after two-term Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomeyannounced in October that he would not run again.

Both the Democratic and Republican fields are getting crowded, with a year to go until next year's primary election. On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman hasdeclared his candidacy, as have several others, while Lamb isconsidering a campaign.On the Republican side, Jeff Bartos, the state's unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018, hasdeclared his candidacy, as well.

Bartos, who hails from the other side of the state in suburban Pittsburgh, is a real estate investor and longtime GOP fundraiser who has the personal wealth to write his campaign a big check. On Tuesday, hours ahead of Parnell's announcement, Bartos' campaign tried to lay claim to the race.

Six county party chairs and six state lawmakers, in a statement, called Bartos “our best chance to win the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat” and urged Parnell to instead run for the House again.The Bartos campaign also launched an online effort to highlight Parnell's pre-2017 criticism of Trump, saying he “sided with liberals” and showing where, on Twitter, he wrote in 2016 that “Trump needs to release his taxes. It’s an avoidable vulnerability.”

A handful of lesser-known candidates have declared, including Kathy Barnette, who ran unsuccessfully for a suburban Philadelphia seat in Congress last year.

Updated: May 12, 2021 at 11:08 AM EDT
This story was updated following Parnell's campaign launch on Tuesday evening.