Jon Ossoff: Who is the democrat opposing David Perdue in Georgia Senate race?

Jon Ossoff: Who is the democrat opposing David Perdue in Georgia Senate race?


Jon Ossoff: Who is the democrat opposing David Perdue in Georgia Senate race?

Jon Ossoff: Who is the democrat opposing David Perdue in Georgia Senate race?

Of the four candidates in Georgia’s twin Senate elections, only one of them is known for his skills on the stump. Jon Ossoff, who is taking on Republican Senator David Perdue, has acquired a reputation as a fiercely smart and sharp-tongued campaigner – and he hasn’t even held elected office before.

Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old former congressional staffer and investigative journalist, was not a dead cert to make it through the first round of this year’s Senate election. But on 3 November, he polled only 88,000 votes behind Mr Perdue, who fell 0.27 points short of the 50 per cent threshold he needed to meet to avoid a runoff.

Since then, the two races underway in Georgia have been under intense national pressure. They will decide which party controls the Senate, and by the same token how Joe Biden will govern the country for at least his first two years in power.

Under that microscope, Mr Ossoff has operated in the same blunt style he deployed against Mr Perdue in the first round – and he hasn’t let up on the other Republican, Kelly Loeffler.

Asked by a Fox News reporter just days before the vote whether he had any concerns that allegations of wrongdoing against his counterpart Raphael Warnock might be a drag on the Democratic ticket, Mr Ossoff seized his chance to strike.

“None whatsoever. Reverend Warnock addressed this issue a year ago, and here’s the bottom line: Kelly Loeffler has been campaigning with a Klansman.” He paused, staring the reporter in the eye.

“Kelly Loeffler has been campaigning with a Klansman. And so she’s stooping to these vicious personal attacks to distract from the fact that she’s been campaigning with a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. I mean, we deserve better than that here in Georgia.”

The pause-and-repeat-for-effect move is a powerful one, part of the rhetorical confidence he has deployed throughout both his campaigns.

In the mould of fellow thirtysomething Pete Buttigieg, who put in a strong showing in the Democratic primary with a far thinner resumé than his rivals’, Mr Ossoff’s persona is steady and calm – but he has a knack for lethally weaponising his opponents’ weaknesses that few Democrats have lately displayed, and he is prepared to go further than many of them ever would.

It helps, perhaps, that Mr Ossoff’s opponent is a Republican more than twice his age who has none of the same rhetorical bite, and who struggled to control his body language when the younger candidate calmly eviscerated him at an October debate, calling him a “crook” and castigating him for allegedly enriching himself via stock trades in the spring while downplaying the risks of the coronavirus pandemic.

Offered the chance to debate Mr Ossoff again, Mr Perdue did not show up.

Mr Ossoff’s first stab at national office came in 2017, when he stood in a special election for Georgia’s 6th congressional seat – a suburban district in northern Atlanta once held by Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the US House of Representatives. Again, the race attracted intense national attention, held as it was off-calendar during Donald Trump’s first year in office.

Facing a crowded Republican field, Mr Ossoff fought that race to a runoff as well; in the course of his campaign he broke fundraising records for a house race, raking in some $25m, and offered the Democrats hope of seizing a longtime Republican seat in a state where they’d long hoped to make inroads.

In the end, he fell short by a larger-than-expected margin of around four points. It was written up at the time as a mortifying defeat for the best-funded congressional candidate in history under a hugely unpopular president. But thanks partly to the organisational roots Mr Ossoff’s campaign put down, the Democrats finally flipped the seat in 2018 – and kept it by a far wider margin in 2020.

Mr Ossoff’s loss has not hurt his political reputation; in fact, he seems the ideal candidate to challenge an incumbent like Mr Perdue in a race where control of the entire senate now rests on the two parties’ ability to drive up turnout.

Some have even drawn comparisons with a certain other young Senate candidate who won not only his own seat, but the presidency – Barack Obama, who cut an ad for Mr Ossoff in the home stretch.

That said, there is plenty of precedent for Democratic hopefuls like Mr Ossoff thrilling the media and their base but leaving a meaningful number of voters cold.

Mr Ossoff was raised Jewish by his father Richard Ossoff, a publishing company owner descended from Russian and Lithuanian Jews, and his mother Heather Fenton, an Australian immigrant who co-founded the NewPowerPAC organisation, a nonprofit that works to elect women to local offices in Georgia.

Mr Ossoff and his wife Alisha Kramer have dated since they were in their teens. He finally proposed after 12 years together. Ms Kramer is an OB/GYN at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and has often appeared on Mr Ossoff’s campaign posts on social media discussing the COVID-19 pandemic. She graduated with her medical degree in 2018.

She testified against the so-called “Heartbeat bill” in the Georgia state senate in 2019, which made abortions illegal in the state once a heartbeat could be detected. Doctors violating the law could receive up to ten years in prison. A district judge invalidated the regulation in July 2020.

Ms Kramer tested positive for COVID-19 that same month. Mr Ossoff experienced symptoms but tested negative and still took the precaution of avoiding in-person events.

After getting her Bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University which included studies abroad in Denmark, Ms Kramer earned a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

Leaving aside his own 2017 effort, there was Mr Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, which saw him vault to the top of the pack before unceremoniously fizzling out; this year, South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison and Kentucky’s Amy McGrath raised astronomical sums in their races to defeat Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell, but both fell dramatically short of expectations.

On the other hand, signs are that Georgia’s double-header might be different. Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue are both tainted by allegations that they profited off the pandemic while playing it down; they are facing not just a surge in Democratic turnout, but the risk that many Republicans won’t show up after Mr Trump repeatedly insisted that Georgia’s electoral machinery is so rigged that voting there is pointless.

Meanwhile, Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock have fought slick and pithy campaigns, tearing into their opponents and Mr Trump while appearing upbeat about the prospects for America under the Democrats.

Mr Ossoff showed off his uncommon skill at off-the-cuff campaigning in the same impromptu TV interview in which he slammed Ms Loeffler for her choice of company.

“Since we’re live on Fox, let me take this opportunity to address directly the Fox audience,” he said, directly to camera. “We have two United States senators in Georgia who have blatantly used their offices to enrich themselves. This is beyond partisanship.”

Without stumble or pause, he made the case for a strong programme of protecting healthcare and strengthening civil rights – and then appealed to an audience not known for supporting the likes of him: “I humbly and respectfully request the support of everyone who is tuned in on Fox right now.”


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