Trump’s backing lands early in wide-open US Senate race
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The most sought-after endorsement in Pennsylvania’s wide-open Republican primary for U.S. Senate went early to Sean Parnell, but the backing of former President Donald Trump isn’t clearing the field for Parnell and it’s yet to be seen what sort of help it will provide.
Trump’s endorsement, issued in a statement Wednesday afternoon, came early in the race, nearly nine months before next May’s primary in what is expected to be one of the nation’s most competitive Senate contests in next year’s election.
It helped that Parnell is close with Donald Trump Jr., who has enthusiastically boosted Parnell’s candidacy since the day he declared.
Meanwhile, Parnell — a decorated former Army Ranger who penned a memoir of his service in Afghanistan, which became a New York Times bestseller — has had a prominent platform of late, appearing on a raft of conservative TV news shows, livestreams and podcasts since the Taliban began advancing quickly amid a U.S. pullout.
That may have sped up the endorsement, said Sam DeMarco, the Allegheny County Republican Party chair who is friendly with Parnell.
It gave Parnell a national platform to “weigh in on his experience in Afghanistan, as well as thoughts on what went wrong and what should have been done differently,” DeMarco said. “He exhibited leadership in these television appearances and on social media, which appears to be sorely lacking in Washington, D.C.”
Pennsylvania’s Senate seat is opening up with the retirement in 2023 of two-term Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, and both Republicans and Democrats have a big field of candidates in the politically divided state.
Parnell became politically active in recent years, running unsuccessfully for Congress last year and landing a coveted speaking slot at the 2020 Republican National Convention.
Still, no independent poll has emerged that shows Parnell — or any Republican candidate — has established substantial name recognition with voters. Polling shows no clear leader in the GOP field and Parnell’s fundraising numbers through June 30 were uninspiring.
Trump’s record in Pennsylvania is not perfect: he beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 44,000 votes, then lost last year to Democrat Joe Biden by about 80,000.
There is some backlash to Trump following his campaign of baseless claims that the election was stolen from him and his incitement to his loyalists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“I think after what happened post-2020 election, I think the president’s behavior was completely unacceptable, so I don’t think he should be the nominee to lead the party in 2024,” Toomey told CNBC on Friday.
And Trump’s endorsements aren’t exactly diamond-encrusted: In Texas, Republican Jake Ellzey beat Trump-backed Susan Wright in a U.S. House race just five weeks ago.
The other candidates — conservative commentator Kathy Barnette, real estate investor Jeff Bartos and Carla Sands, Trump’s ambassador to Denmark, among them — show no sign of getting out of the way.
Bartos’ campaign on Friday called him “the Republican Party’s best chance to hold the U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania” and said he is leading the field in fundraising, political organization and messaging.
“Jeff has outworked every candidate in the field, and will keep doing so all the way through the primary and into the general,” his campaign said.
In a statement, Sands said Trump “will be disappointed” in Parnell endorsement and that no one in the race “can match my demonstrated commitment to the America First agenda.”
“We look forward to having the president on our team in the general election,” she said.
In any case, Trump’s endorsement should add to Parnell’s momentum, York County Republican Party chair Jeff Piccola said.
But, Piccola said, “the endorsement is one thing. It’ll be interesting to see if the president comes into campaign for him, helps to raise money for him. Those are all questions for the future.”
DeMarco said the endorsement is meaningful because of the former president’s loyal following among GOP voters and it “takes a section of the electorate off the table” for Parnell’s rivals.
Another important endorsement is that of the state party.
Trump’s backing may weigh on that decision.
But the party has elements who typically resist endorsing in contested primaries and, with a big field of candidates, “it may not be possible to get an endorsement,” Piccola said.
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