Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff had their second debate Thursday morning. It was unfortunately timed, coming right before James Comey’s much-hyped testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. But an important moment took place in the debate which should not be lost on any of the voters in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.
About three-quarters of the way through the debate, after moderator Denis O’Hayer of WABE asked Handel a question about her ties to President Trump, he asked Ossoff this question (start watching here at the 1:11:43 mark):
“Mr. Ossoff … assuming you’re elected, you’re almost immediately going to be running for re-election, and you’re going to need help from the Democratic leadership, which has been part of the help for your campaign. They — it’s a natural thing in politics, they’re going to say, look, we helped you, you need to help us. You’ve talked about being independent; how can you, when you may need their help against a well-funded Republican opponent in the next election, should you win?”
It was a perfectly legitimate question that needed to be asked of a candidate who has practically run from the party label he chose (in an election that’s officially non-partisan, and in which two of the 18 original candidates actually did run as independents). But as Republicans have rightly pointed out numerous times, Ossoff has received the vast, vast majority of his campaign funds from not just outside the 6th District but outside the state of Georgia. And congressional Democrats have pumped millions of dollars into his campaign. Yet he still claims, with a straight face, that he would be some kind of “independent voice” providing “independent leadership” from the back benches.
How much time did Ossoff spend answering the actual question? Not one second; not one word. Here’s what he said in response, in its entirety:
“Well, there is indeed a clear contrast in this race, as Secretary Handel said. I will be a fresh, independent voice for this district. Secretary Handel on the other hand is a career politician who has run six times for five different offices. The last two major responsibilities she had: As secretary of state, she quit the job early to seek higher office, as so many career politicians do. Her last major responsibility in the private sector, at the Komen Foundation, she quit. She resigned in disgrace, amidst a scandal over her leadership of an effort to de-fund life-saving breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood. And in 2012, Secretary Handel, you said, quote, I embrace that I led the project — that project being to de-fund breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood. The last few weeks you’ve avoided responsibility. I think you should take responsibility for what you did, and explain to the people of the 6th District why you thought it was appropriate to impose your own views on women here in Georgia and across the state by de-funding breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood.”
Did you catch that? He restated the premise for O’Hayer’s question, didn’t answer it, and then proceeded to spend the rest of his time attacking Handel. And not attacking her in any old way: He chose chiefly to attack her along one of the most partisan fault lines in politics today, the funding of Planned Parenthood.
There was nothing — nothing at all — in his answer to explain how voters could possibly realistically expect him to be independent from the people bankrolling his campaign, who as O’Hayer noted could be counted on to bankroll his re-election campaign were he to be in position to run one. There was just another repetition of his favorite, false smear against his opponent.
His silence about the actual topic tells you everything there is to know about the utter fantasy he’s peddling about being “independent” of Democratic leaders in Washington.
Handel, presumably aggravated at having to answer Ossoff’s false charges once again, didn’t point out his failure to answer. Neither did O’Hayer (who otherwise did a bang-up job as moderator, asking pointed questions that hit the soft spots of both candidates). It was always unlikely there would be a “knock-out” moment in these debates for either candidate, given how close the race is. But this might have been it, had Handel seized on it.
Nevertheless, it is a moment that 6th District voters deserve to know about as they consider whether Jon Ossoff is a “safe” or “harmless” choice who wouldn’t go to Washington and repeatedly vote against the ideals they’ve supported many times via their votes for men like Newt Gingrich, Johnny Isakson and Tom Price. He can’t make good on that promise, and when asked directly about it he made that crystal clear by turning tail and running away from the question as fast as he could.