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As Sean Parnell tries to squelch negative TV ads, rivals make that an issue, too

Parnell’s lawyers say the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate is trying to shield his children from attack ads. A super PAC seized on that, suggesting Parnell is trying to hide problems.

Sean Parnell speaks in McCandless, Pa., in May as he announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat.
Sean Parnell speaks in McCandless, Pa., in May as he announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat.Read moreSteve Mellon / AP

Republican Senate candidate Sean Parnell is trying to fight off attacks about temporary protective orders issued against him — and his opponents are using that as more fodder to go after him.

Parnell, endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has battled attempts by supporters of fellow Republican Jeff Bartos to air attack ads about the issue, threatening to sue them and TV stations, and recently sought a gag order to prevent his estranged wife from talking about the protective orders.

The Bartos allies used the gag order request as part of a new ad this week and highlighted a failed attempt to nix that spot to reporters — saying Parnell’s efforts show an attempt to hide a problem.

Parnell’s camp calls the ads false and said he wants to spare his children from “disgusting” attacks about the two temporary protective orders from 2017 and 2018, which were later dismissed and expunged. Laurie Parnell’s attorney said the candidate is only trying to shield himself from scrutiny, and a judge mostly rejected the gag order request.

Last week Parnell’s attorneys threatened to sue the Bartos-allied super PAC Jobs for Our Future and cable television companies in Philadelphia and Erie if the latest ad — citing the gag order request and protective orders — kept airing. They argued that the ad was misleading, noting that neither of the protective orders were made permanent. The first was dismissed after an agreement between Parnell and his wife. The second was ended by a judge after a hearing.

The super PAC’s lawyers scoffed at what they called “legal fluff and scare tactics.” The ad stayed on TV, running in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre, Johnstown, and Erie.

Parnell appeared to have more success in September, when his lawyers pressured 6abc not to run an earlier attack, arguing it was inaccurate. They also pressed to keep an ad off ESPN during an Eagles Monday Night Football game that month — when a shorter, revised version ran instead. Parnell’s campaign called those two outcomes proof the “false and disgusting” original ads weren’t true.

Bartos’ super PAC has “lost all of their credibility,” said Parnell spokesperson Ian Prior.

The PAC’s revised ad had almost no mention of the former protective orders. A spokesperson says the original stayed on digital and that the change was made for strategic reasons, not because of inaccuracy.

A Super PAC spokesperson said Parnell “is resorting to bully-like tactics” to silence critics and “We’re just getting started.”

Schmidt: Trump disinformation fuels threats

Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt’s testimony in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday was direct and dire: Violent threats to election officials travel on the same wavelength as disinformation about the 2020 presidential election. More disinformation means more threats.

“I know from my experience that the threats died down after Election Day, after the new president was sworn in,” Schmidt, a Republican, told the Committee on Rules & Administration. “Now that the legislature is talking about instituting some bogus audit in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania they return.”

A day later, the Wall Street Journal published a letter from Trump chock full of debunked disinformation. In a lengthy screed, Trump repeated every lie told about his loss to President Joe Biden.

The Journal on Thursday defended publishing Trump’s letter, saying it was no “special favor” and newsworthy “even if (or perhaps especially if) his claims are bananas.”

Schmidt, who testified about receiving threats from people who said they would murder his young children, noted the bipartisan nature of that hearing, with Democrats and Republicans decrying the dangers of disinformation.

“The Wall Street Journal chose lies over democracy,” Schmidt told Clout.

GOP judicial candidate: ‘Let’s go Brandon’

Judicial candidates aren’t known for controversial exclamations, thanks to the state Code of Judicial Conduct, which emphasizes dignity and impartiality.

So Clout’s ears perked up when Megan Sullivan, a former Chester County prosecutor and now the Republican nominee for Superior Court, punctuated a campaign speech last week with a profane-by-proxy anti-Biden slogan.

Addressing party activists in Doylestown, Sullivan stuck mostly to a standard stump speech about her background how she’d approach the job. A big victory, she said, would give her party “the momentum we need to get a new governor and the new senator that are both Republican” in 2022.

Her kicker: “And let’s go, Brandon.” The crowd erupted in laughter.

The joke dates to Oct. 2, when driver Brandon Brown won a NASCAR race in Alabama. During a live interview with NBC after the race, the reporter incorrectly explained that fans were chanting “Let’s go, Brandon.” In fact, they were saying, “F— Joe Biden.”

The incident became a GOP meme, reached the halls of Congress, and a pro-Trump rapper even wrote a song titled “Let’s Go, Brandonthat rose to No. 1 on iTunes charts, the New York Post reported.

Sullivan’s campaign told Clout she “made a popular culture reference” but noted she used no “expletive” to refer to Biden.

Her Democratic opponent is Common Pleas Court Judge Timika Lane.

This story has been updated to include a comment from the Super PAC supporting Bartos.

Clout provides often irreverent news and analysis about people, power, and politics.