Democrat Jon Ossoff dominated the first debate with Republican Karen Handel as he delivered a clear message of independence and change, while Handel stumbled on health care and snuggled up to Trump.
There were several recurring messages during the debate. Ossoff touted his independence and how he was going to be an independent voice for the people of the sixth district. Ossoff repeatedly throughout the debate drove home the message that Karen Handel is a career politician.
Handel dredged up that old Republican favorite villain Nancy Pelosi and tried to link Ossoff to Pelosi. Handel showed that she is the embodiment of a generic Republican by claiming that Ossoff was “too liberal” for voters.
Ossoff leveled some of his clearest criticism of Trump by calling his foreign policy weak, while Handel firmly attached herself to Trump’s Muslim ban. Later, Handel went all in on supporting and agreeing with Trump on the Iran deal.
On health care, it got flat out ugly for Karen Handel as she supported Trumpcare, and Ossoff hit her hard on the American Health Care Act (Trumpcare). Handel responded to Ossoff’s valid criticisms of Trumpcare and Handel’s support for it by feigning outrage because her sister has a pre-existing condition. Handel then falsely claimed that Trumpcare wouldn’t harm people with pre-existing conditions. Ossoff responded by hammering Handel for being wrong about Trumpcare and pre-existing conditions and used Handel’s own statements against her about how she bragged about defunding breast cancer screenings. Handel responded by saying that Ossoff was misleading and using women’s issues as a wedge issue “like all liberals do.”
Ossoff went back to his question, and Handel responded by saying that the press was misleading.
The health care discussion was Handel’s big stumble and the moment that this debate turned from bad for Republicans to a rout for Ossoff.
Ossoff understood the power of the health care issue, as he came back to it when the candidates were allowed to ask each other a question. Ossoff asked Handel about her role at Komen, and all she could do was lie and feign outrage. Ossoff was able to turn Handel’s question about not being a resident of Sixth District into Handel not being from Georgia.
Handel put all of her eggs into the Ossoff is a liberal backed by Pelosi basket. With all the money and interest being poured into this special election, it is clear that this contest comes down to the classic choice of change versus the status quo. One of the reasons why Karen Handel may lose this election is that Ossoff did a good job of painting Handel as the career politician incumbent.
What Republicans don’t understand is that their old strategy won’t work anymore, because Donald Trump is the incumbent and Republicans are the party in power. If voters in the Sixth District are dissatisfied with Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, Ossoff is the clear choice. Karen Handel took a big risk by linking herself to Trump. If the voters are upset with Trump, they will reject her.
The health care issue seriously damaged Karen Handel, and if the voters in the special election mirror the feelings of the nation at large, Trumpcare could sink the Republican chances in the Georgia House special election. Karen Handel’s only strategy was to repeat Nancy Pelosi liberal while cuddling up to Trump.
Karen Handel is a failed and terrible candidate, but that doesn’t take away from a dominant performance from Jon Ossoff. After watching this debate, it is easy to see why this election is so close and Republicans are in danger of losing a seat that they have held since 1979.
Jon Ossoff is impressive, and he looks like the right candidate in the perfect year to flip the Sixth.
Mr. Easley is the founder/managing editor and Senior White House and Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association