One of the nation’s most closely watched Senate races has swerved into personal attacks, with Republican real estate developer Jeff Bartos publicizing what he calls “disqualifying” restraining orders against Trump-endorsed candidate Sean Parnell in a divorce case.
Mr. Parnell, a decorated Army veteran of the war in Afghanistan, has denied wrongdoing and called on his rival to quit the Republican primary race for sliming his family. His allies say Mr. Bartos’ move smacks of desperation.
Donald Trump Jr. called on Mr. Bartos on Thursday to quit the race, saying he “should be ashamed of himself for his disgraceful smear campaign against American hero” Mr. Parnell.
“If he has any integrity, he’ll drop out of the race & apologize to Sean‘s 3 kids for the pain his lies caused,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
The campaign to replace retiring Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey promises to be one of the most competitive and expensive races in the country. Pennsylvania went for Donald Trump in 2016 but flipped to Joseph R. Biden in 2020, and the Senate seat is considered crucial for Republicans to regain the majority in 2022.
Mr. Parnell received a major boost on Sept. 1 with the endorsement of the former president, who said the Purple Heart recipient “will always put America first.”
“He will make Pennsylvania very proud and will fight for election integrity, strong borders, our Second Amendment, energy Jobs, and so much more,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Parnell was a plaintiff in a lawsuit that unsuccessfully sought to have the Supreme Court overturn Mr. Biden’s win in Pennsylvania in 2020.
Less than a week later, Mr. Bartos sent reporters copies of restraining orders sought by Mr. Parnell’s wife in 2017 and 2018 during divorce proceedings that are still ongoing. The orders have since been expunged. Mr. Parnell’s wife withdrew the first request, and a judge denied making the second one permanent after holding a hearing.
But Mr. Bartos said it’s evidence that Mr. Parnell is “unelectable.”
“Parnell will eliminate Republicans’ chances to hold this seat,” the Bartos campaign said in a statement.
Mr. Parnell said Mr. Bartos “needs to do the honorable thing” — apologize to his family and withdraw from the race.
“Jeff Bartos is a desperate liar, plain and simple,” Mr. Parnell said. “Bartos’ allegations are horrific lies and all the evidence proves it. Not only does he know full well that these allegations are provably false, but his willingness to spread these lies without any consideration for the damage he’s doing to my three young kids is utterly disgusting. It takes a truly dishonorable ‘man’ to stoop this low just to score a few cheap political points.”
Sources close to the race said the media in Pennsylvania were aware for months of the documents related to Mr. Parnell’s divorce case, but the material wasn’t published until Mr. Bartos released it in a campaign “memo” this week.
A Republican operative said the media didn’t publish the story about the restraining orders last year when Mr. Parnell ran unsuccessfully against Democrat Conor Lamb.
“Bartos has been pitching it for months, and then he just got desperate,” the operative said. “He put it in memo form and mass-mail blasted it to every reporter in the state. It has backfired, big time.”
The Parnell campaign has cast Mr. Bartos as a Democrat in disguise. It pointed to his internship in the Clinton White House and his donations to Democratic campaigns.
The Republican race has several other candidates. Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Parnell over Republican Carla Sands, who was his ambassador to Denmark.
On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Mr. Lamb are among a dozen candidates vying for the party’s nomination.