In the hotly contested race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, Republican Karen Handel beat out Democrat Jon Ossoff 52 to 48 percent for the vacated seat of current Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.
One of Ossoff’s earliest supporters was Steve Berman, co-founder of The Weber School and a leader in the Atlanta Jewish community. Berman worked with Ossoff’s campaign and helped to co-host campaign fundraisers.
Berman said that while Ossoff may have lost the election, there is still a silver lining:
Let’s keep things in perspective. Victories are better than moral victories, but we made up close to 20 points over what even Tom Price won by in November. So you have to keep your eye on progress, and this is real progress. So I would much prefer victory, but this is a teachable moment, and this is a doable moment.
He is right. Progress has been made for Democrats in trying to grab this seat, which has been held by Republicans since 1979 — and has been won with 20 percent or more of the vote over the past 20 years.
Berman was quick to notice the differing energy levels of the two campaigns:
I went to the headquarters last night for the gathering to watch the returns, and the enthusiasm was unbelievable, and it’s going to be carried on. The Republicans, if you watched their headquarters on television last night, they didn’t have a fraction of the enthusiasm.
Berman also pointed out that the Jewish community’s involvement in Ossoff’s campaign was greater than he had ever seen. He said, “There were more Jews getting involved than I know in canvasing for Ossoff and working for the campaign in ways that they have never done before.” He described people who had never been involved, who were going out and going door to door four days a week.According to Berman, Ossoff’s message evolved during the course of the campaign: Ossoff changed from being an anti-Trump candidate in the first round of voting to being a more well-rounded candidate in the runoffs. During the 16-person primary, Ossoff’s first tweet to the public focused on standing up to Trump, and Berman said that “Democrats coalesced around him very quickly.” But, Berman explained that Ossoff “pivoted away” from that position:
One of the perceived turning points in favor of the Democrats came during a debate between Handel and Ossoff a few weeks before the election. In a rebuttal, Handel said she does not support a living wage. Following the remark, many members of the media took this clip and ran with it, decrying how insensitive it was to those living on minimum wage. Handel later clarified her remark, saying that she meant she opposed a federally mandated wage. Berman said that the remark had no effect on the election:
He understood that to get people from the middle or center right to consider voting for him, he had to show that as a person, he was willing to work with anybody, and he rarely, if ever, invoked Trump’s name after that.
Everybody realized she made a mistake, and she didn’t mean that, and that we should move on from that. That’s not something you can turn an election around on. Voters understood that she made a mistake. Cut her a break — she’s not my candidate, but I’m gonna give her a rain check on that.
For the Democrats to actually win elections in the future, Berman postulated that campaigns need to widen their demographic to include previously untapped areas:
We have to work on messaging. We have to work on identifying parts of the community that we are not getting through to and hear their concerns and respond to them, and I’m confident we will. I think that Republican voters in general think that Democrats don’t hear their concerns about taxes and government involvement with healthcare. You just have to show that your’re listening and your’re here, and that you’re responding in a thoughtful way — that’s half the battle right there.
Berman emphasized that Ossoff was very close to winning the seat, despite the high levels of gerrymandering in the 6th District. “This was a district drawn for Republicans,” argued Berman. “They can’t feel good about how close this was.”