On the surface, Pennsylvania's Sean Parnell appears to have the qualities of a competitive candidate. He's a decorated Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, a bestselling author, and a Republican who ran a competitive congressional race last fall, nearly defeating a popular Democratic incumbent.
When Parnell launched a U.S. Senate campaign earlier this year, many GOP officials in Pennsylvania were delighted. When Donald Trump announced his support for Parnell, the former president assumed he was backing a likely winner.
But just below the surface, there are several areas of concern. In fact, CNN reported last week that a growing number of Republican officials are concerned that Parnell's "messy personal life" may undermine his chances.
Reading this Philadelphia Inquirer report published yesterday, "messy" isn't an adjective that captures the seriousness of the allegations.
The estranged wife of Republican Senate candidate Sean Parnell testified under oath Monday that he choked her until she bit him to escape, that he hit their young children, and that he lashed out at her with obscenities and insults. In tearful testimony, Laurie Snell told a family court judge that her husband once called her a "whore" and a "piece of s—" while pinning her down. On another occasion, she said, Parnell slapped one child hard enough to leave fingerprint-shaped welts through the back of the child's T-shirt. And she said he once got so angry he punched a closet door with such force it swung into a child's face and left a bruise. She said Parnell told his child: "That was your fault."
In the same sworn testimony, as part of child custody proceedings, Snell claimed that in 2008, after a Thanksgiving trip, Parnell briefly forced her out of their vehicle and told her to "go get an abortion."
According to her version of events, Parnell struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the abuse began before they married in 2010. Snell added, however, that conditions grew even more serious in 2018, when he "started hitting the kids." The couple separated soon after.
Parnell issued a statement yesterday strenuously denying Snell's claims and vowing to present his side of the story next week. "Let me emphatically state: I have never raised a hand in anger towards my wife or any of our three children," he added.
Nevertheless, other GOP candidates have taken note. In September, Jeff Bartos, a rival Republican Senate candidate, stressed the fact that Parnell's wife twice sought protection-from-abuse orders against him, as recently as a few years ago. According to Bartos, this makes Parnell "unelectable."
Former Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, who's also expressed an interest in next year's Senate race in Pennsylvania, yesterday called on Parnell to end his candidacy.
Unfortunately, there are related stories in other states. Georgia's Herschel Walker, another Trump-backed Republican U.S. Senate candidate, has also faced abuse allegations: The Associated Press reported that his ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, secured a protective order against him, alleging violent and controlling behavior.
According to Grossman's version of events, the former athlete pointed a pistol at her head and said, "I'm going to blow your f'ing brains out." When she filed for divorce, she cited "physically abusive and extremely threatening behavior."
Last month, The Washington Post also reported on domestic violence allegations surrounding Max Miller, a former Trump aide who's running for Congress in Ohio.
As we discussed soon after, there are plenty of caveats to reports like these. For one thing, each of the Republican men have denied wrongdoing. For another, it's not yet clear how many of these GOP candidates will end up winning their respective primaries and advancing to the 2022 general elections.
That said, there's a distinct possibility that all of these candidates will be Republican nominees in next year's midterm cycle, which should leave GOP leaders with some difficult questions about the extent to which the party cares, if at all.