FILE - Sean Parnell

In this Sept. 22, 2020, file photo, Sean Parnell walks through people gathered at a campaign rally for then President Donald Trump at the Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. Content Exchange

(The Center Square) – A Republican candidate to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey suspended his campaign this week after losing custody of his three children.

Sean Parnell, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, announced his decision in a prepared statement Monday, the same day a Butler County judge awarded his wife, Laurie Snell, sole legal custody of their three children.

“I strongly disagree with the ruling today and I’m devastated by the decision,” Parnell wrote. “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 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,” he wrote. “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.”

Parnell, a former U.S. Army Ranger and decorated war veteran, was considered a frontrunner in the 2022 Republican primary that also includes real estate developer Jeff Bartos and Carla Sands, Trump’s former ambassador to Denmark. Parnell previously ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2020, defeated by Democrat Rep. Conor Lamb.

Senior Judge James Arner awarded legal and primary custody of Parnell’s three children – ages 12, 11 and 8 – to Snell in part because he found her “the more credible witness” throughout the court proceedings. Snell testified that Parnell choked her, struck their children and ordered her to get an abortion. Parnell denied the allegations, WESA radio reported.

Snell “provided factual details of each incident, including when they happened and what happened. She testified in a convincing manner. Her testimony was not uncertain, confused, self-contradictory, or evasive,” Arner wrote.

Parnell “simply denied that all of (the) incidents ever happened,” the judge wrote.

Arner also cited Parnell’s conduct at the hearing and busy schedule as a candidate for U.S. Senate as reasons for limiting partial physical custody to three weekends per month, WESA reported.

“He was dressed very casually for his appearances in court, in blue jeans and untucked plaid shirts, which did not show respect for the seriousness of the occasion,” Arner wrote. “While testifying he looked mainly in the direction of attorneys and toward members of the news media in the back of the courtroom, rather than at me.”

The 2022 U.S. Senate election to replace Toomey could have significant consequences in an upper chamber currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote for Democrats.

Since Toomey, a Republican, announced last year he won’t seek reelection, a total of 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans have declared their intent to fill his seat, Ballotpedia reported.

Toomey was elected to the Senate in 2010 after incumbent Arlen Specter switched parties to lose in the Democratic primary. Toomey won the general election over Democratic nominee Joe Sestak and was reelected in 2016 over Democratic nominee Katie McGinty.

Pennsylvania is one of seven states with a split U.S. Senate delegation, with Democrat U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. serving since 2007. Casey is up for reelection in 2024.

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