Jon Ossoff Was Against Negative Campaigning, Until He Had A Real Opponent

Jon Ossoff / Getty Images

Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff told anybody who would listen about his commitment to running a strictly positive campaign, but now that he is running neck-and-neck with a Republican challenger that commitment has gone out the window.

Ossoff's campaign unleashed an attack ad this week against Republican Karen Handel, who polls show has pulled even with Ossoff after she lost to him by nearly 30 points in last month's election. The Ossoff ad, clipped by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, attacks Handel for using taxpayer money for luxury items—an attack that appears to have been crafted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The decision to go negative on Handel comes as a surprise given Ossoff's previous statements on how he was running a positive campaign to contrast himself with Republican President Donald Trump.

"Anger is just not who I am, and I don't think it's what voters in the 6th district want," Ossoff told Esquire in March.  "They want respectful, decent representation that contrasts so starkly with what we have in Washington."

"I made it clear that I can run a positive campaign and do it better," he said.

Ossoff made a similar statement to the New York Times, stating that "running a positive campaign" was intended to make his contrast with Trump obvious.

"There are many in this district who are concerned that the president may embarrass us on the world stage, that he may be incompetent and that he’s dishonest," Ossoff said. "I share those concerns, but by running a positive campaign focused on core American values, the contrast is obvious."

In a conversation with Flippable, a Democratic-aligned organization focused on winning back the House of Representatives for the party, Ossoff said that he could win without "mudslinging."

During a debate a week later, Ossoff bragged that he was running a "positive campaign that is focused on core values that unite us."

Ossoff ran a positive campaign in the run-up to the April 18 special election while he had no real competition on his side of the aisle—he spent millions of dollars more than any of his opponent, none of whom gained even one percent of the vote on election day.

On the Republican side, it remained unclear who would emerge as the top candidate until after the votes came in and Handel came out on top with 20 percent of the vote. Ossoff's work to smear Handel was also already being carried out by her Republican opponents, who were leveling similar attacks in the lead-up to the election.

Handel's campaign disputes the attacks made by Ossoff in his ad, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she actually cut the budget during her time as Georgia's secretary of state.

Ossoff has been hit with his fair share of negative campaign ads, targeting money he earned as a filmmaker from Al Jazeera, his ties to Hollywood elites, his ties to unpopular party leader Nancy Pelosi, and, perhaps most notably, as a former a cappella singer and Star Wars fan who is too inexperienced to run for congress.