Throughout an 86-minute online forum, the three most prominent Democrats seeking their party’s U.S. Senate nomination stayed in their lanes, generally agreeing on the issues while restating their campaign themes.
COVID-19 forced the April 20 program — sponsored by the Jewish Democratic Council of America and Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon of Atlanta — into the virtual world, with each candidate framed in their own box.
Only in their closing statements did Teresa Tomlinson, Jon Ossoff, and Sarah Riggs Amico make digs at each other.
Tomlinson had begun the forum by referring to herself as a 55-year-old woman seasoned by years of public service. To defeat incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue, “We’re going to need to field a candidate who knows how to govern,” said the former two-term mayor of Columbus.
In her wrap up, after expressing respect for her opponents, Tomlinson said, “But all candidates are not created equal,” she said next. “It’s not a starter job. It’s not a business. It’s going to require someone who . . . will be ready on day one. I’m that candidate.”
Next up was Ossoff, an executive in a media company that produces investigative reports. Three years ago, he was a national sensation, coming within a whisker of winning the 6th congressional seat in an all-comers primary, only to lose a general election runoff to Republican incumbent Karen Handel in the most expensive U.S. House race in history.
Earlier in the forum, the 33-year-old Ossoff had said, “The margin of victory in November requires massive youth turnout. . . . David Perdue and his allies will try to turn my youth against me, but I believe my youth is my greatest strength and will carry us to victory in November.”
In his closing, Ossoff framed his previous electoral defeat as an advantage. “I’ve not made my career in elected office. I’ve made my career exposing corruption, organized crime and war crimes all over the world,” he said. “I believe that’s exactly the skill sets that’s needed in the U.S. Senate.”
The 40-year-old Amico emphasized her experience as executive chair of a family-owned trucking company, saying that the Democrat challenging Perdue must speak to struggling families, small businesses and entrepreneurs. “They’re going to need a champion, not somebody who’s new to how to survive and help working people thrive in a down economy, but somebody who’s been battled tested and doing exactly that for the last 17 years as a business owner and business executive.”
Amico pointed out that the 1.8 million votes she received in her unsuccessful 2018 bid to become lieutenant governor was nearly a half-million more than Perdue did in his 2014 victory over Democrat Michelle Nunn.
Whichever Democrat emerges from the June 11 primary will face an incumbent with a formidable war chest. As of March 31, Perdue reported more than $9 million in cash on hand. Ossoff led the Democrats with $1.8 million, followed by Tomlinson with more than $435,000, and Amico with nearly $280,000.
Looking toward the Nov. 3 general election, COVID-19 has made health care even more of a priority issue for Democrats.
The three Democrats, speaking to the online Jewish forum, voiced support for expanding Medicaid, the state–federal program that covers some medical costs for low-income, disabled, elderly Americans. They also backed creating a public option for the Affordable Care Act.
Tomlinson urged greater spending on rural health care, highlighting the impact of COVID-19 in Dougherty County and elsewhere in southwest Georgia, on a per capita basis one of the hardest hit areas in the nation. She also recommended expanding Medicare by dropping the eligibility age to 55 from the current 65, thereby bringing a healthier pool of people into the program.
Amico also backed lowering the Medicare qualifying age. She emphasized racial inequalities in the health care system and said that it was long past time to update the federal formula for determining poverty, which was written in the mid-1960s.
Ossoff warned that Perdue would threaten the future of Medicare and said that the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries wield financial and political power to the detriment of Georgians. He also pointed to the rising issue of surprise medical bills, in which consumers are charged for equipment not used or for services that either are not provided or fall out of their insurance network without their knowledge.
On foreign affairs, Amico said that Trump, enabled by Perdue, had “systematically stripped funding and talent from our State Department. They’ve taken away the greatest weapon in our arsenal, which is diplomacy.” She also objected to “abject partisan pandering of the Republican party” that turned Israel into a wedge issue, contrasted with a history of bipartisan support.
Tomlinson said, “We need serious, serious people to lead us to this next era of stability in the Middle East.” She added that Trump has allowed Russian control of Syria, not only putting Israel at risk but also sending Israel to deal with Russia on regional issues.
Speaking of Israel, Ossoff said, “This is personal for me,” mentioning that he has family there and recalling a visit he made after his bar mitzvah. “The U.S. role in the Middle East, in my view, should be even-handed diplomatic leadership toward a sustainable resolution of political conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said, while also stating that “I am committed to protecting Israel as a secure homeland for the Jewish people.”