Depending on your politics, Jon Ossoff is either the Great Blue Hope or the Great Blue Hype.
National newspapers and magazines write about him. Cable television talking heads talk about him. People he has never met send him money.
“It’s got very little to do with me and everything to do with the times,” Ossoff told the AJT.
“Times” begins with “T” and that stands for … Trump.
Ossoff is one of five Democrats, 11 Republicans and two independents thrown together in the April 18 primary to succeed Republican Tom Price, who resigned to become health and human services secretary, as the congressman from Georgia’s 6th District. Unless one candidate wins a majority, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff June 20.
Many Democratic hopes to win a seat Republicans have held since 1979 are pinned on Ossoff, 30, just five years older than the minimum age to run for the House. Supporters use the hashtag “Flipthe6th.”
“It’s humbling and, at times, overwhelming but ultimately inspiring. I think what I feel is responsibility to make people proud, given how many people are showing support,” said Ossoff, who chooses his words carefully.
Ossoff’s campaign reports 7,500 registered volunteers and $3.5 million in campaign funds, with an average donation of $28. That includes more than $1.18 million raised (as of March 10) from nearly 66,000 donations via the liberal Daily Kos website.
The Daily Kos pitch begins: “Want to fight back against Trump and scare the hell out of Republicans in Congress at the same time?”
The Democratic National Committee thinks enough of Ossoff’s chances to deploy professional staff to the district.
“Folks are looking at this race as a very high-stakes election,” Ossoff said.
He rejects the notion that the primary is solely a referendum on President Donald Trump. “It’s much more complicated than that, and people in the 6th District have much broader and complex concerns than simply their views of Trump.”
Nonetheless, Ossoff said, “he’s always the elephant in the room.”
Price won a seventh term in November with 61.7 percent of the 326,005 votes cast. Trump, however, received only 48.3 percent of the district’s vote, compared with 46.8 percent for Hillary Clinton.
Ossoff grew up in the Northlake area of northern DeKalb County, where his parents still live. He celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah at The Temple.
He worked as deputy communications director on Hank Johnson’s successful campaign to replace fellow Democrat Cynthia McKinney in Georgia’s 4th Congressional District.
In 2007, while still a student, Ossoff began working as a legislative aide for Johnson. He continued in that position, handling military and national security issues, after graduation from Georgetown.
In 2013, Ossoff earned a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.
Since then, he has been the chief executive officer (and a 50 percent stakeholder) of Insight TWI, which produces documentaries focusing on government corruption and conflict around the world.
“I am passionate about work that has an impact, and I could have gone a few different directions after working on the Hill and getting my master’s degree in economics,” Ossoff said. “Ultimately, the ability to produce content that not only reports what’s going on in the world, but exposes corruption and criminality, and often results in the prosecution and conviction and incarceration of the criminals and corrupt officials, has been the most satisfying work I’ve done in my life so far.”
During the campaign he has recused himself from editorial involvement and minimized his business role.
“I saw what Congress can achieve, but I also saw Washington at its worst, and I left and did not anticipate returning,” Ossoff said. “When I learned that the congressman from the district where I grew up would be vacating, I sat down with Congressman John Lewis, one of my mentors, and he encouraged me to run. He said he would support me if I did. And I thought to myself, ‘If not now, when?’ ”
Ossoff repudiates comments Johnson made in July 2016, likening Jewish settlements in the West Bank to “termites.”
“Those remarks were deeply offensive, and he apologized for them. I’m on the ballot, not Hank Johnson. I don’t speak for Hank Johnson. I didn’t work for Hank Johnson when he made those statements,” Ossoff said. “I am a committed supporter of Israel as a secure homeland for the Jewish people. My position is unequivocal, and people should judge me in this election by what I say and what I stand for.”
When it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, “our goal still has to be a two-state solution. Two states living peacefully side by side, achieved by bilateral negotiations,” he said. “I think the U.S. has a strong leadership role to play in bringing the two parties together.”
Republicans have labeled Ossoff as a left-winger out of touch with the 6th District. Ossoff presents himself as a centrist.
“I am going to Washington to find solutions for the 6th District, and I will work with anyone who offers solutions that are in the interests of the 6th District. I will not shy away from criticizing any politician, whether the president or others, for betraying the public interest, for conflicts of interests. Ultimately, I’m here to deliver for the people who elect me, not to engage in partisanship,” Ossoff said.
The National Republican Campaign Committee circulated an email with the subject line “Ossoff the carpetbagger,” noting that Ossoff lives outside the district.
He moved out of the district so that his girlfriend of 13 years, a third-year student studying gynecology and obstetrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, could walk to campus, where her hospital rounds begin at 4 a.m.
Republicans also released an advertisement that features a video of Ossoff in a musical “Star Wars” skit while a student at Georgetown.
“It’s legitimate for people to ask that question, but given that I grew up in this district, that I’ve been registered to vote in this district all but three years of my adult life, that I’m 10 minutes from the District boundaries, no, it doesn’t concern me,” Ossoff said. “My roots, my ties to the district, are deep and strong.”