Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District election will be one of the most important races in 2020 and its outcome could reflect whether the House returns to Republican control or stays with a Democratic majority.
Why? Because Democratic incumbent Conor Lamb, a Marine veteran, is facing a primary challenge from Army veteran Sean Parnell, a Republican and staunch defender of President Donald Trump. The 17th Congressional district is comprised of upper-middle-class, left-leaning Allegheny County suburbs, like Mt. Lebanon, as well more conservative voters in other areas of the district. For example, Beaver County communities, which are a various hodgepodge of working-class blue collar constituents and more right leaning conservatives. Those communities, to include Butler County voters as well, are home to slightly more fiscal conservatives, rural voters that make the area a little more Republican-leaning than Democrat.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers are watching this race closely, saying it could be a bellwether for 2020.
“I’m running to make sure the people in my district have a voice in D.C.,” Sean Parnell
Parnell told this reporter that he is running against Lamb “because for the last three years, the people of Western Pennsylvania haven’t really had a voice.”
“While I think Conor is a nice guy, he’s probably better suited to be a lawyer at a local law firm,” said Parnell, who has also been endorsed by both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. “When you run for political office, your job is to be a voice for the people in Washington. Conor has done the exact opposite.”
This reporter reached out to Lamb’s communications team, but they declined to comment on this race.
Lamb ran as a moderate but has sided with his party on most issues, including the impeachment vote against President Trump, said Parnell. One of the issues Lamb is not properly reflecting his constituents on is gun rights. He pointed out that Lamb has an F-rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which does not reflect the political leanings of many of his constituents, Parnell added.
There are other important policy issues as well, said Parnell.
“He’s [Lamb] voted against the President 90 percent of the time and voted to impeach him on both charges,” he added. “He sides with Nancy Pelosi more than 90 percent of the time. That’s not an independent voice. He campaigned on being pro-life and has an A-rating from Planned Parenthood. He just voted against the Born Alive Act and he’s done it twice. That’s the opposite of pro-life.”
Like Lamb, Parnell is military veteran. That’s one of the only things the two opponents have in common.
Parnell is a former Army Ranger and combat infantryman with the elite 10th Mountain Division, and spent 485 days of fighting along the dangerous Afghan-Pakistan border. According to his biography, his “Outlaw Platoon” killed over 350 enemy fighters in some of the biggest firefights of the Afghan War. On June 10, 2006, Parnell was wounded after his platoon was nearly overrun by Taliban insurgents, which outnumbered the platoon almost ten to one. He refused to leave his men behind and continued to battle the enemy at point-blank range, and according to reports he was “knocked unconscious and wounded two more times during the gunfight.”
Parnell said staying true to his values and listening to the concerns of the district’s constituents is what sets him apart from his opponent. He believes that the 2020 election is essentially a showdown between freedom and socialism, which is why his campaign slogan is “Defend Freedom.”
“I’m running as someone who is a Western Pennsylvanian first and a Republican second,” he said. “I’m running to make sure the people in my district have a voice in D.C.”
Another major issue for Parnell is the opioid crisis. Like many other suburbs across American, Western Pennsylvania has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. For Parnell, finding solutions to save the lives of those in his district is paramount.
“I have not met a family yet that has not been affected by the opioid crisis in some way,” said Parnell. “Every person that I’ve met in Beaver County knows someone struggling with opioid addition. It’s a real problem. It’s tough to articulate a solution but we’re certainly working on something actionable as opposed to substituting opioid-based medications other addicting substances.”
While the Democratic Party has long been associated with unions, Parnell is a Republican who will fight for unions.
“My grandfather was a lifelong union Democrat and I watched him lose his job,” he said. “In Western Pennsylvania, any labor that’s on the job, they built this economy in to the economic titan that we’ve become. I have the backs of those workers. Someone has to have the back of those union workers and the Democratic Party has taken them for granted.”
Parnell added that he will fight to keep coal, natural gas and other jobs in the energy industry.
“Hydraulic fracking is a major pillar of our economy in Western Pennsylvania,” he said. “I want to be an advocate for those rank-and-file union members and protect them.”
As a father of three young children, Parnell says part of the reason he is running is to leave this a better country for them.
“I want my kids to have a country that has all of the opportunity in the world,” he said. “I want them to inherit a country that’s free. I want them to be able to chart their own path. I don’t want the government to tell them what they can or can’t do with their freedom. When I look in their eyes, I see my motivation for running.”
Parnell, who is also a Fox Contributor, has written the New York Times best selling book, Outlaw Platoon, the story of his platoon’s crucible of combat in Eastern Afghanistan. He has also appeared on other networks including CNN, MSNBC and PBS as an expert on the War in Afghanistan.
The 2020 Pennsylvania primaries are scheduled for Tuesday, April 28.