Ossoff: It's Not a Sign of Privilege to Run for Senate Despite Losing House Race

Georgia Democrat lost 2017 House special election, has never held office

Jon Ossoff (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
September 11, 2019

Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff doesn't think that going from losing his special House election race to running for Senate reflects his "privilege," he told the New York Times.

Ossoff, a 32-year-old who has never held elected office, said he felt he could turn out black voters in the state with the same effectiveness as Stacey Abrams, a black woman who lost last year's governor's race but earned more statewide votes than any Democrat in Georgia history. Ossoff is one of four Democrats so far seeking the nomination to challenge Sen. David Perdue (R., Ga.) in 2020.

"It's not about the identity of the candidate," said Ossoff, who is white. "It's about the quality of the effort, the earnestness of the message, the execution of the campaign, the willingness to reach out to every single neighborhood in this state."

Times reporter Astead W. Herndon noted Ossoff's invocation of identity at the end of their interview.

"Is it a function of that identity, and privilege, that you can lose your 2017 election and still run for higher office? I’m thinking of the Beto O’Rourke analogy," Herndon said.

"I was 29 years old when Donald Trump was elected president," Ossoff said. "And like millions of people across the country, instead of sitting down in despair, I stood up. I ran for Congress in a district where the last Democrat had lost by 23 points. And when I got into that race, no one thought I had a chance, not the national Democratic Party, not commentators and observers and the political class here in Georgia. I believe that my experience and my track record speak to my values and speak to the kind of senator I’ll be for Georgia."

"I'm sorry, but I don’t know if that answers the question," Herndon replied. "I'm saying: Do you think it's a sign of privilege that you lost that race in 2017, but are now in a better position to run again?"

"No, it speaks to the extraordinary movement that we built here in Georgia in 2017," Ossoff said. "I'm competitive in this Senate race because I have the capacity to inspire and mobilize a grass-roots army of supporters, and because I have demonstrated the ability to withstand significant pressure in the harsh glare of the national spotlight."

Ossoff rose to prominence in 2017 when he ran in Georgia's Sixth Congressional District race to replace Tom Price, who was at the time serving as secretary of health and human services. He finished first in the nonpartisan jungle blanket primary but didn't receive a majority, and he lost the runoff to Republican Karen Handel in what was the most expensive House election to date.