Cobb political observers were split over picking a winner of Tuesday’s televised debate between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff, with each preferring the candidate from their own party.
Ossoff and Handel are vying for Georgia’s District 6 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in what has become the most expensive U.S. House race in history. The race began with 18 candidates, and Ossoff and Handel are the only two remaining ahead of the June 20 runoff election.
Handel and Ossoff discussed their plans for issues such as health care and infrastructure during the one-hour event aired on WSB-TV.
Jason Shepherd, chairman of the Cobb County Republican Party, said he thought Handel was particularly successful in defending herself against criticism of her support for repealing the Affordable Care Act.
“When Jon Ossoff tried to explain that she was against coverage for pre-existing conditions, she said back to him (that) this is personal for her,” Shepherd said. “Her own sister has a pre-existing condition, and she wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize her own family member.”
However, Michael Owens, chair of the Cobb County Democratic Party, praised Ossoff for confirming the positions that have made him a popular candidate.
“Jon was very calm and direct, and he stuck to what has made him an overwhelming favorite among Democrats in this race,” Owens said.
During the debate, Jon Ossoff addressed criticism he has faced for not living in the 6th District himself — he lives near Emory University to support his fiancee, who is in medical school. Shepherd said Handel, who does live in the district, would be more familiar with her constituents’ needs.
Barbara Hickey, president of the Georgia Federation of Republican Women, also finds Ossoff’s residency outside the district concerning.
“He should be living in the district,” she said. “He can say he lives close by, but he should know the culture of the district and the needs, and I really believe he won’t be prepared.”
Hickey said Ossoff’s demeanor made him seem less personable.
“He was like a puppet. He didn’t have that much emotion,” she said.
Former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, D-Marietta, said both candidates played to their constituencies, so the debate is unlikely to move the needle.
“I don’t think any votes were changed by it,” he said. “The real risk in those encounters is making sure no one makes a gaffe or does something that would change any votes.”
Owens said the debate was helpful in educating voters of both parties as they decide how to cast their ballot in the approaching election.
“I’m happy that Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff agreed to the debate, because I think that people of the 6th District deserve the opportunity to hear both of them talk about the same issues in real time,” he said. “I think overall it will benefit the people of the district and allow us to make the best decision when it comes to who our congressperson is going to be.”