Jackson Schneider, Staff

U.S. Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff discussed his policy stances and the need to upend “corruption” in the federal government at a Young Democrats of Emory town hall on Jan. 23. 

“We’ve allowed ourselves to become convinced that it’s mysterious how we fix what’s wrong,” Ossoff said. “Congress is not going to solve problems unless we attack the underlying causes of corruption and dysfunction.”

A Georgia native, Ossoff has engaged in politics since working as a high school intern for Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). He mounted a bid as the Democratic nominee in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District 2017 special election following former Rep. Tom Price’s (R-Ga.) resignation. This highly contentious election was the most expensive in congressional history with Ossoff raising over $23 million, according to Ballotpedia.

Though he lost by about 3 percentage points, Ossoff still considers his race a success, as he believes he set the stage for a future Democratic victory, he told audience members. Democratic candidate Lucy McBath went on to defeat incumbent Karen Handel in the 2018 midterm elections, turning the district blue for the first time since 1978. 

Today, Ossoff aims to capitalize on the strategies that led to his near-win in 2017, asserting that his status as a young politician does not make him any less qualified than other candidates.

“As young people, when we strive to do things that are typically intended for people much older than us, we will face skepticism and criticism and doubt,” Ossoff said. “What I learned was never to be intimidated from telling my own story and touting my own accomplishments.”

After a 10-minute stump speech, Ossoff fielded questions from an audience of about 40 students. He touched on several Georgia-specific health issues, discussing the state’s high maternal mortality rate, lack of OB-GYNs in numerous counties, child poverty levels and a “broad crisis of health.” While Ossoff said he supports a public option for health care, he does not believe eliminating private insurance altogether is best for the American public.

“If someone wants to stick with their private insurance, it’s not my place as a legislator prospectively to tell them that they can’t,” Ossoff explained.

Ossoff also spoke about tackling voter suppression across the state, saying, “I cannot promise you that we’ll have a clean election, … but as soon as I get to the Senate, I’ll be ready to work to restore the Voting Rights Act in full.”

Despite speaking on some policy stances, Ossoff spent the majority of his time imploring the audience to unite and rise above “hatred,” saying that voters can’t “lose sight of where we’re supposed to be going.”

“We are doing this because elections have consequences for other human beings and for ourselves,” he said. “As grim and tedious as what we see happening in Washington is, we need to stay focused on the kind of world we’re building together.”

Ethan Rothstein (23C), a potential Georgia voter, came into the event interested in hearing the questions students would have for Ossoff. Rothstein expressed mostly positive sentiments but noted that Ossoff “dodged” a few topics.

“He was a very good speaker, and he did a good job making his case for election,” Rothstein said. “If I vote in Georgia, I think I would vote for Jon Ossoff because I feel like he has the best chance to win, and I really like his policies on health care and the economy.”

While Young Democrats of Emory will not endorse a candidate this election cycle per national rules, President Hayden Davis (21C) has worked with Ossoff on organizing events and believes he is a “great candidate.” 

“I’ve always found him incredibly eager to work and engage with students and young people on a direct level,” Davis said. 

Ossoff was the fourth and final 2020 U.S. Democratic Senate candidate to visit Emory, following appearances from Ted Terry, Sarah Riggs Amico and Teresa Tomlinson (91L) last semester. Davis expressed satisfaction with the town hall series and believes that any of the candidates have “integrity and decency” that U.S. Senate Republicans “are no longer motivated by.”

“We have some incredibly strong candidates in the race with well-thought-out and progressive views that will make our country stronger,” Davis said. “It’s vital that we remove David Perdue, one of Trump’s biggest sycophants in the Senate, and replace him with someone who’ll do what’s best for the country, not himself.”