The race for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District seat, made vacant by President Trump’s appointment of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services, has sparked national attention as big-money donors from within and without the state have poured millions into both campaigns, making this election the most expensive House election in U.S. history.
Months of campaigning culminated in the April 18 election, wherein no candidate received 50% of the vote, which is required in Georgia to avoid a runoff election. So, a runoff between the top two candidates, the Republican former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and the Democratic filmmaker and former congressional aide Jon Ossoff, is scheduled for June 20.
On June 6, Ossoff and Handel squared off on WSB-TV (local Channel 2) for the first and only televised debate of the campaign. Nightly News anchor Justin Farmer acted as lead moderator; Channel 2 political reporter Richard Elliot, WSB Radio’s Condace Pressley, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein posed questions as a panel.
Although the entire mood of the debate felt tense, there are several instances in particular that stood out as extraordinarily contentious.
One of these instances emerged when Ossoff introduced a story about a seven-year-old child who canvassed for the Ossoff campaign. Then, Ossoff used that boy’s pre-existing condition to pivot and attack Handel, stating that she “supports a bill that would gut the protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.” Ossoff then insisted that Handel sought to “impose her own views” on the voters of Georgia and accused her of moving to “cut off funding for life-saving breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood” during her stint as Senior Vice President of Policy for the Susan G. Komen Foundation (Komen).
In response, Handel confidently tackled both accusations:
First, Handel shamed Ossoff, stating that her sister was born without an esophagus, a pre-existing condition, and said that for him to “suggest that I would do anything that would negatively affect her is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable.” Although Ossoff most likely did not intend to personally attack Handel via her sister, the fact that he was so callous as to suggest that Handel would yank benefits from anyone is unfair and cynical.
Second, Handel countered Ossoff’s claim regarding Komen, stating that cutting ties with Planned Parenthood was a “business decision ultimately decided by the Board of Komen.” It is totally naïve for Ossoff to assume and promote that Handel would have the sole decision-making authority for an organization that big. Did Handel lead the effort? We can’t know for sure, but the way that Ossoff is portraying the situation to voters is that big-bad Karen hates women and swiped the last chance for life away from dying patients—really? The allegations coming from the Ossoff campaign that Handel fought to deny women help combating breast cancer, intentionally or otherwise, are, like his charges regarding her stance on pre-existing conditions, very dark and disheartening. Let’s not forget: Handel was deputy chief of staff to Second Lady Marilyn Quayle, wife of Dan Quayle, and Handel, according to this press release from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, coordinated Mrs. Quayle’s breast cancer awareness activities, which included the initiative to designate October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To finish her rebuttal, Handel dealt a decisive blow to Ossoff, asserting that “I have held the hand of friends who have fought breast cancer and other types of women’s reproductive cancer, and I will not be lectured by you [Ossoff], or anyone else.” Handel then claimed that she was tasked to find options to disengage from Planned Parenthood while at Komen, and then she charged that Ossoff has “continued to mislead the people of this district with deceptive ads… and for you to, once again like liberals always do, hijack women’s issues and make them a political wedge issue is unacceptable.”
Stinging and powerful, Handel’s statement on women’s issues rips away the layers of false concern that have shrouded sects of the liberal elite for generations.
Later in the debate, the candidates received the opportunity to ask each other a question.
Ossoff instead used his time to launch a 45-second attack on Handel’s record, where he condescendingly explained to Handel the purpose of the Komen Foundation and dictated what she did and did not know during her time there. He then ended his long-winded statement with a trick question: “If you were committed to going in and defunding breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, why did you take the job [at Komen] in the first place?” Handel clearly and effectively answered the question by reaffirming almost exactly what she had already said to Ossoff earlier in the evening, closing off the debate over that portion of her record.
Next, it was Handel’s turn to interrogate her opponent, and she posed a simple, yet pointed question to Ossoff: “So Jon… exactly who are you going to vote for in this election?”
This question, which would normally be easy to answer and dismiss, opened an entirely new aspect of the debate, as Jon Ossoff lives not in the Sixth District, which he is running to represent, but rather in the Fifth District.
After standing speechless and looking down at his podium for about three seconds, Ossoff finally asked, “Is that the question?” Smirking, Handel did not respond. “Okay,” said Ossoff, who then brushed off the issue of his residence, claiming that he is supporting his fiancée, who is at medical school in Emory. Ossoff then tried to turn Handel’s question around on her, claiming that she is getting distracted on a non-issue and that she, being born and raised in Washington, D.C., has been so eager to get back there. Ossoff claimed that Handel was not discussing a matter important to the people of the Sixth District, to which Handel replied that she obviously could not choose where she was born, and that she has voluntarily lived in Georgia almost as long as Ossoff has been alive. She then asserted that Ossoff “might live just five minutes outside of the district, but your values are nearly 3,000 miles away in San Francisco…[which is] why you’re supported by Nancy Pelosi.” Handel then cleverly pivoted to attack Ossoff on his decision made days before to forgo a debate that would be aired by CNN: “It’s no wonder that my opponent didn’t want to do the [debate]; it was going to be aired on CNN, where all folks from around the country, all of his liberal supporters, were going to see it, and the fake Jon Ossoff was going to collide with the real Jon Ossoff, who is a Nancy Pelosi-backed liberal.”
Unfortunately, Handel did misspeak when she intended to reject the concept of a “living wage” as being indexed to the cost of living, and she erroneously attacked the idea of a “livable wage.” Did she intend to do so?—no, and everyone knows that, but that did not stop the left from accusing her of hating the poor and people who earn lower incomes. Instead of trying to be cute or funny on Twitter, the left should have just listened to the rest of Handel’s answer that showed support for small businesses and economic growth, which in the end are more beneficial than giving higher wages to fewer people. Interestingly, Ossoff did not pounce on Handel after her statement, probably because he, like most people, understood what she meant.
Admittedly, Ossoff performed well; he never seemed flustered or out of place behind the podium. Furthermore, he accomplished his clever goal of appearing moderate in a district unlikely to back a traditional Democrat in such an election. However, due to a lack of any political experience, the bar was not set very high for him. If he performed poorly, the media would have sympathized since it was his first debate; if Ossoff got through the hour with no slip-ups, the media would say he did “surprisingly well.” To an extent, Ossoff, generally perceived as young and energetic, seemed to hide in his shell; although he articulated his talking points well, he repeated himself so much that it was hard to take his comments genuinely when compared to the visibly animated Handel. Handel appeared more human, discussing her personal life while vigorously and effectively defending her professional record from Ossoff’s attacks. Inversely, Ossoff, who has no record, looked increasingly dainty when pitted against the former business executive, the former Chair of the Fulton County Commission and the former Secretary of State of Georgia. The bottom line is that voters in the Sixth District will have to make the choice between a political titan in Handel or a junior staffer in Ossoff.
— Ethan Pender is a sophomore studying political science. He is a regular contributor to The Arch Conservative.