Cornelia – Jon Ossoff’s bid for Georgia’s 6th District brought him to all corners of Atlanta suburbs, but late Thursday he arrived at a new setting: A crowded library meeting hall in deeply-conservative Habersham County.
The investigative journalist raised $30 million in last year’s special election for the U.S. House seat, which he lost to Republican Karen Handel. Ossoff is now considering another run for office, perhaps a challenge to U.S. Sen. David Perdue in 2020.
And so Ossoff’s town hall meeting in rural northeast Georgia took on special significance as a chance to test his appeal to an unfamiliar crowd. And he unveiled an urgent, populist message railing against the corporate influence in politics and a national economy “built on debt and consumption.”
“There’s more and more cynical politics. Student debt is skyrocketing. We’re still maintaining this unfathomably large empire that costs trillions of dollars,” said Ossoff. “We’re doing nothing for crumbling infrastructure at home. And we wonder why there’s so much anger.”
He added: “It’s because the people in charge are squandering the power and wealth entrusted in them to make our lives better.”
The meeting drew about 100 people, many from a sweep of other deeply-conservative neighboring areas where Democrat Stacey Abrams struggled to crack 15 percent of the vote in November’s race for governor. Organizers said it was the most young people the county party had ever attracted.
Several of the activists vented to Ossoff about feeling isolated in GOP territory. One said she worried about going door-to-door in places where “the word Democrat is seen as evil.”
“There are always risks involved in politics,” answered Ossoff. “But if we become so afraid of each other that we won’t knock on each others’ doors, that’s the road to Hell.”
He waded into the debate over voting rights, saying the election tactics were “reminiscent of Jim Crow” segregation-era laws.
“We now have a system where a shocking number of Georgians are convinced their vote doesn’t count,” he said. “I liked seeing Stacey Abrams fight at the end of this thing. I liked that she decided to make an issue of the flaws.”
Since losing that epic contest last year, Ossoff has tried to keep up his profile. He crisscrossed Atlanta’s suburbs to support legislative candidates, including several who worked on his campaign.
He’s called on Abrams to challenge Perdue in two years though he hasn’t ruled out his own bid. And he penned a lengthy op-ed in The Guardian newspaper, criticizing the $1 million that Nuclear Matters has spent in support of a Republican incumbent in the race for Public Service Commission.
Ossoff was dodgy about direct questions about his next step, saying he would “think really carefully” before making up his mind.
But he said he expected Democrats to sharpen their criticism of President Donald Trump, consider new anti-trust regulations and push new campaign finance rules.
He took particular aim at the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, the 2010 decision that allows unlimited campaign contributions. He said Democrats must respond by banding together to reject corporate contributions.
“It takes politicians who refuse corporate money and break that dependence to bring some balance back to the system,” he said.
And he cast recent Democratic defeats in Georgia – including his own – as a temporary setback.
“This is a long fight. There will be triumph and heartbreak, near-misses and wipeouts, and triumphant victories,” he said. “But it’s about every single battle, and not being demoralized -- and finding community among other people who share your values.”