10 Things You Should Know About Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff
Policy + Politics

10 Things You Should Know About Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff

REUTERS/Marvin Gentry

He came within an eyelash of winning outright a coveted Georgia House seat in Tuesday’s special election – a victory that would have catapulted him into national Democratic prominence and sorely embarrassed President Trump.

Jon Ossoff, a 30-year old documentary producer, and former congressional staffer fell barely two percentage points shy of the 50 percent threshold he needed in a crowded field of 18 Republicans and Democrats to claim a House seat in suburban Atlanta that has been in Republican hands for several decades.

Related: If Ossoff Wins Big in Georgia, Democrats Could Sweep the 2018 Midterms

Ossoff topped the field with 48.1 percent of the vote, followed by Republican Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, who picked up just 19.8 percent.

An outright victory by a Democrat in a race for a seat once held by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich would have emboldened the Democrats heading into the 2018 mid-term elections as they tried to rebound from their major losses last fall. And it would have further stoked speculation that Trump is losing some of his political firepower as his approval ratings languish at historically low levels.

That can still happen, political analysts say. But Ossoff’s challenge to extract a runoff victory in a heavily Republican district will be daunting, especially if Handel succeeds in unifying her fractured party and producing a major turnout for the June 20 election.

Ossoff is the quintessential young man in a hurry. A liberal Democrat smitten by politics in high school who has amassed noteworthy credentials in campaigning, national security issues, and documentary filmmaking in a relatively short time. His early heroes included Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), the civil rights icon, and Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state who taught one of his classes in college.

Related: How Trump and the GOP Are Handing Congress Back to the Democrats

New York magazine recently described him as “an overachieving millennial who looks like a cross between Gumby and Justin Trudeau and who speaks slowly and deliberately in a way that can remind you of Barack Obama, something he’s been told before.”

If he can somehow pull out a victory in the runoff, Ossoff’s grass-roots Democratic campaigning and appeal to more moderate Republicans disenchanted with Trump could become a model for a Democratic comeback next year.

“I’m looking forward to what will be a spirited debate, I’m looking forward to continuing to work with a team of thousands of folks who are giving so much to push us forward to try to get some fresh leadership into Washington,” he said on Wednesday morning in an interview with MSNBC.

Ossoff has eagerly accepted more than $8.2 million in campaign contributions from Democratic forces throughout the country and early on urged potential supporters to “Make Trump Furious” with their contributions.

Related: 4 Political Minefields Waiting for Trump Following His Health Care Failure 

But he has subsequently discouraged media speculation that his race should be considered a referendum on Trump, fearing to drive away potential GOP supporters, and he insists that the outcome of the race will not be determined by outside forces.

“With all due respect, the national press is always interested in national implications and what things mean for Washington,” Ossoff told  Stephanie Ruhle of MSNBC.

Here are ten things you should know about Jon Ossoff:

  • Ossoff was born in Atlanta on Feb. 16, 1987, and grew up in the suburban community of Northlake, which is located within Georgia’s 6th congressional district. Ossoff was raised in a Jewish household by his mother, an Australian immigrant who founded a political PAC for women, and his father, who is of Russian and Lithuanian descent and owned a small publishing company.
  • He received a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 2009 and went on to earn a Master of Science degree from the London School of Economics in 2013. He wrote his thesis there on U.S.-China trade relations.

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  • Ossoff first became interested in politics as a 17-year-old high school student when he read the autobiography of John Lewis, the congressman and civil rights leader, and garnered a coveted internship in Lewis’s Atlanta office. Later, while attending Georgetown University in Washington, Ossoff volunteered to help liberal Democrat Hank Johnson’s campaign unseat Rep. Cynthia McKinney in the Democratic primary.    
  • In January 2007, Ossoff began working for Johnson on Capitol Hill as a part-time legislative correspondent, putting in 25 to 30 hours a week while continuing to attend Georgetown. For the next five years, Ossoff helped draft and manage legislation.  
  • Ossoff was criticized in January for embellishing his resume by asserting he had been a “national security staffer” in Congress for five years and had top-secret clearance for much of his tenure on Johnson’s staff. In fact, he had spent the first two years or so in a junior capacity and only achieved top-secret clearance during his last five months with Johnson.

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  • He abruptly switched from politics to journalism in 2013, when he became managing partner and CEO of Insight TWI (The World Investigates), an Emmy Award–winning documentary-film-production company that produces features about global injustices and atrocities committed by ISIS in Iraq.
  • Ossoff is doing relatively well as a young businessman. A financial disclosure shows that he has more than $1.7 million in assets, including  $250,000 in Apple stock and an additional $50,000 in Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment firm.  Insight TWI, his British-based documentary company, is valued at more than $250 million. He also has a $50,000 financial interest in a solar panel installation company, NWC Partnership.
  • But the ambitious millennial has a “carpet bagger” problem. Ossoff doesn’t live in the 6th District; he resides a mile or so south near Emory University where his girlfriend of 12 years, Alisha Kramer, is attending medical school.
  • Ossoff has been careful to say he was “raised” in North DeKalb County, which is part of the 6th, although he’s not residing there currently. He might consider renting an apartment in the district before the June 20 runoff to defuse the carpet bagger issue. Trump weighed in on the issue Tuesday afternoon with a tweet that Ossoff “doesn’t even live in the district” and imploring Republicans to turn out at the polls.
  • Although he’s squarely in Trump’s crosshairs, Ossoff rejects the idea that his candidacy is a referendum on Trump, even though he can expect to feel the sting of the president’s tweets and other missives throughout the remaining weeks of the campaign.

The day before Tuesday’s special election to fill the seat previously held by Republican Tom Price, Trump sent out a tweet denouncing Ossoff as a "super Liberal Democrat" who wants to "protect criminals, allow illegal immigration and raise taxes.” Ossoff issued a statement saying Trump was “misinformed,” but that isn’t likely to dissuade Trump from continuing to hammer away before the June 20 runoff