ATLANTA — At 33, U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff is young enough to wear the “maverick” brand that’s often placed on brash young politicians.
But Ossoff is no babe in the woods in the political arena, having narrowly lost a showdown with Karen Handel for her heavily Republican U.S. House District 6 seat in 2017, a race that was the most expensive such showdown in American history.
Undaunted by that tough loss, Ossoff, an investigative journalist who is CEO of Insight TWI, has set his sights on a higher prize: the U.S. Senate seat held for the past six years by Donald Trump acolyte David Perdue, a wealthy businessman who makes no bones that his allegiance is to the current resident of the White House.
“I can say up front, I am not running to be anyone’s partisan soldier,” Ossoff said in an interview with The Albany Herald, conducted via telephone from his Atlanta home, where he is self-quarantined with his wife, Dr. Alisha Kramer, an OB/GYN who tested positive for COVID-19 recently. “David Perdue is one of those politicians who puts his self-interest above those of the people he was chosen to represent. He’s proud; he brags about making his money by outsourcing American jobs to Asia.
“The company he ran was sued for pay discrimination against women. David Perdue only cares about David Perdue."
The Democratic challenger warms to the subject of his opponent.
"He has had no objection whatsoever to the hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars that have gone to Wall Street investment banks and major corporations to keep them afloat during this crisis." Ossoff said. "Yet he fights the stimulus checks of $1,200 to working people."
The young Democrat has made a campaign pledge not to accept donations from corporate political action committees. He contrasts that pledge with Perdue’s fundraising methods.
“He sells his meetings for corporate PAC checks, can you believe that?” Ossoff said of the Republican incumbent. “"He sends letters to lobbyists informing them that in exchange for a $7,500 corporate PAC check, they were entitled to four meetings per year. I run a business that exposes corruption and the abuse of power. And while Sen. Perdue takes cues from, for example, insurance companies, and then tries to end protections for pre-existing conditions. I'm refusing contributions from corporate PACs, and I'll fight to make health care affordable for every family in the state.”
Ossoff, whose latest campaign ad takes on the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has first-hand knowledge of the virus’ impact. Kramer tested positive for the virus, prompting Ossoff to get tested himself and to self-quarantine.
“I’m knocking on every piece of wood that’s within 5 feet of me, but right now (Kramer) is doing better,” the candidate said. “This is a strange sickness with a lot of ups and downs, but she’s on the upswing now. We’ve known since March that people like Alisha, people on the front lines, are at greater risk for the virus. We weren’t surprised when she got it. I had a negative test, but I’m remaining at home for a quarantine period before going back out into the public.
“It’s undeniable that the federal response to the pandemic has been catastrophic from the beginning. Our political leadership denied the reality of the pandemic, ignored the best advise of experts and then tried to spin their way out of the problem. You attack a robust problem like this by listening to the advice of the experts, the people who have experience dealing with these type issues. But for months now, all we’ve got is a president putting out spin, and people like David Perdue repeating that spin verbatim. This pandemic is not about politics.”
The latest polls conducted by various agencies show that Ossoff is either running neck-and-neck with Perdue, is ahead by a few points or is trailing by that same number of points, depending on which poll you believe.
"I don't pay much attention to the polls," Ossoff said. "But if you look at the tens of millions of dollars of out-of-state money and corporate money pouring in for Sen. Perdue, clearly, the race is extremely competitive. And what these special interest groups who support Sen. Perdue fear is that when the public finds out that not only was he not being honest, or taking the threat seriously when he downplayed and downplayed and downplayed, he was also busily trading medical and vaccine stocks and dumping his casino shares that he's in deep deep trouble with Georgia voters."
Ossoff said he became involved in investigative journalism as a career because of his interest in pursuing truth.
"So much of what we get in the media these days is garbage. ... I think that we face a crisis in American journalism and American media, the consolidation of mass media into the hands of a very small number of companies," he said. "And the hollowing out of local journalism, these great independent local papers that people have relied on literally for centuries, to understand what's happening in their community. And when reporting information is exclusively about maximizing profit, then the editorial incentives are distorted.
"I support measures that will help keep local newspapers open, that will increase funding for nonpartisan independent public interest journalism. ... I think that journalism can and should be a profitable enterprise but the ethical obligation of the journalist is to the truth. And there's too much partisan media in too much sensationalism in American journalism right now."
Asked about the partisan nature of state and national politics, Ossoff said the “D” or “R” on legislation is not what will get his attention if he wins the Senate seat.
“I couldn’t care less about political parties when it comes to serving the state I represent,” he said. “There are two very real truths about our government: Corruption in Washington is a bipartisan problem, and extremism in Washington is a bipartisan problem.
“I am building a growing coalition of voters in rural Georgia because my platform is simple: I believe everyone deserves to have affordable health care; I believe we need to work on improving our infrastructure and utilizing clean energy, and I think we have to get ‘dark money’ out of politics. I think the people of Georgia want real leaders who will work to heal our country. Leadership by people like Donald Trump and David Perdue is terribly divisive.”