David M. Drucker, Washington Examiner, Oct 07, 2021
The race for the Republican nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania is Sean Parnell’s to lose after snagging an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.
Trump chose the Army combat veteran of the war in Afghanistan over loyalist Carla Sands, a former ambassador in his administration and generous campaign contributor. The former president also chose Parnell over one of his leading grassroots supporters, Kathy Barnette, who is black and running under the slogan: “Pennsylvania First. America First.”
In doing so, Trump staked Parnell a big lead in the 2022 primary campaign and transformed the rest of the field into also-rans.
“Trump’s endorsement undoubtedly makes Parnell the undisputed front-runner,” said Jeffrey Brauer, a political science professor at Keystone College in Pennsylvania. “He will likely win the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.”
“The president’s endorsement of Sean Parnell should provide a gust of wind in his sails,” added Sam DeMarco, chairman of the Allegheny County GOP, Parnell’s home county. “It positions him, I would think, to be a leader, as of today, in the primary.” As a county chairman, DeMarco is neutral in the Senate primary.
Parnell, 40, already enjoyed a leg up on the competition via an early endorsement from Donald Trump Jr. The 45th president’s eldest son enjoys a strong following inside the GOP, and his early backing was a major boost for Parnell, who was defeated last November in his bid for Congress against Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb and criticized by some as running a lackluster campaign. But in GOP primaries, Trump’s endorsement is tops.
That’s especially the case in Pennsylvania, where the Republican base continues to revere Trump despite his loss to President Joe Biden in the commonwealth in 2020. Some Republicans believe Trump’s seal of approval could boost Parnell in the general election as well as the primary, given Biden’s diminished standing in the commonwealth following his much-criticized leadership of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
According to polling conducted by the firm Civiqs, the president’s approval sits at 42%, with 50% disapproving. Either way, Parnell boosters are convinced they hit the jackpot with Trump’s backing, which was unveiled Wednesday.
“This primary is effectively over,” said a GOP insider supporting Parnell’s bid to succeed Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is retiring.
Trump, who is wary of backing flawed candidates, is excusing Parnell’s congressional loss last year by way of the same excuse he has used to paper over his own 2020 failure, saying in a statement: “Sean is a great candidate, who got robbed in his congressional run in the Crime of the Century — the 2020 Presidential Election Scam.”
Meanwhile, Parnell’s Republican supporters, and even party insiders not picking sides in the primary, emphasize that the aspiring senator, an accomplished novelist, has plenty more going for him than Trump’s endorsement.
The U.S. pullout from Afghanistan riveted people for weeks and continues to reverberate across the country, elevating national security as a top issue. Parnell has used his expertise gained from his military experience to establish himself as a GOP leader on the matter, in the process becoming a ubiquitous presence on conservative media platforms.
National security is an issue that can cut across partisan and cultural lines, leading some Republicans to predict that Parnell could help revitalize the GOP in the Philadelphia suburbs, where the party took a significant hit during Trump’s White House tenure. That could make Parnell particularly appealing to Republican primary voters. The other candidates, among them real estate developer and 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Jeff Bartos, simply cannot match Parnell’s foreign policy credentials.
“That’s probably, right now, just as important as the Trump endorsement,” said Bob Gleason, former Pennsylvania Republican Party chairman.
But Gleason and other Republican insiders interviewed for this story were hesitant to declare the primary in the bag for Parnell. The primary is still nine months away, and Parnell, they said, is going to have to earn his victory.
“The endorsement will definitely help with a good chunk of the base, but it definitely doesn’t mean it’s over yet,” said Josh Novotney, a Republican insider in Philadelphia. “Sean still has to run a good race to get the nomination and translate the endorsement into fundraising. That isn’t an automatic.”