Campaigning in the era of COVID-19 looks and sounds drastically different compared to previous years full of crowded rallies and conventions. Jon Ossoff’s campaign for the U.S. Senate has faced its fair share of challenges amid the coronavirus.
In late July, Ossoff’s wife, Alisha Kramer, tested positive for COVID-19. Ossoff’s campaign headquarters moved to their home while they quarantined, and he has held virtual campaign events and town halls, more recently with District 118 State Rep. Spencer Frye, a fellow Democrat.
While campaigning from his home during COVID-19, Ossoff said the pandemic has made clear that “the quality of our political representation is a matter of life and death.”
“The way that this pandemic has changed campaigning is I’ve never seen people more galvanized to vote and make a change, and I’ve never been more motivated to help lead that fight,” Ossoff said.
Ossoff is running against incumbent Sen. David Perdue. The Nov. 3 election will determine if Democrats can flip the Senate, making Georgia a competitive battleground state that could be won by either party by a small number of votes. Ossoff encouraged young people to volunteer, vote and make this election a priority.
“We can’t take another four years of this. ... Take action every day to get out the vote because the future of our country, our future as young people, depends on it,” Ossoff said.
The coronavirus has made almost all of the 2020 campaign cycle digital. Television advertisements are prominent in Georgia as well as attack and issue ads on social media platforms.
In late July, Democrats pounced on Sen. Perdue’s campaign after it released an attack ad that The Forward claimed promoted anti-Semitic sentiments by doctoring Ossoff’s nose and placing him next to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer (D-NY), who is also Jewish. Ossoff called the ad “stupid and absurd,” and it has since been removed.
The Black Lives Matter movement has made its way to the forefront of campaign issues. Ossoff discussed plans to work with racial justice activists if elected to the senate. While he does not support defunding the police, Ossoff hopes to pass a new Civil Rights Act that would allow the Department of Justice’s civil rights division to hold police departments, prosecutors and judges accountable.
In his town hall with Frye, Ossoff emphasized the importance of reforming policing in order to rebuild trust between communities and law enforcement. He also addressed the need to solve “deep inequities in our financial system” including redlining practices and making sure education resources for public schools aren't tied to a community’s wealth.
Ossoff also plans to make college education more affordable for Georgians. He supports debt free higher education at public colleges and universities and making technical job training and vocational schools completely free.
“No young person in Georgia should have to take on a penny of debt in order to get a degree from UGA or any of our public colleges and universities,” Ossoff said.
Mokah Jasmine Johnson, who is running in the District 117 state house race, submitted a question about affordable housing during Ossoff’s town hall with Frye. Frye has led discussions in the Georgia Assembly to make home ownership in Georgia a feasible reality for more families.
Ossoff explained that the housing crisis in Georgia has been exacerbated by the pandemic and could lead to a homelessness crisis. In 2018, 31.6% of the Athens population was in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Eviction protections have expired, Ossoff said, and he criticized the Senate for taking a vacation while families in the state are having trouble paying rent.
If elected, Ossoff plans to deliver resources for affordable housing in Georgia in an infrastructure bill and work with people like Frye to make sure Georgians aren’t displaced.
The coronavirus pandemic has heightened the importance of listening to health care professionals and making health care accessible. Ossoff said in his town hall with Frye that Georgia has a public health crisis and a healthcare affordability and accessibility crisis. These issues specifically impact rural Georgians, he said.
Achieving universal health care coverage will require strengthening protections for private insurance holders, protecting people with preexisting conditions and using federal funds to build more clinics in underserved areas of the state, Ossoff said.
Leaders have downplayed the effects of the virus and are currently trying to spin their way out of it, Ossoff said.
Campaign finance reform is also one of Ossoff’s goals. Ossoff began his career in politics after interning for Rep. John Lewis and working for Rep. Hank Johnson. Ossoff said he “got really disillusioned” due to the dysfunction and partisanship he witnessed in Congress. He worked in investigative journalism and media production to expose corruption, and his passion for that brought him back to politics.
Ossoff wants to ban corporate political action committees and make sure politicians are only serving their constituents and not their donors.
“I think that our politics has become intolerably corrupt and the country’s on the wrong track,” Ossoff said.