Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel
Chaos in Washington shakes up Georgia election
02:50 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Georgia runoff race is increasingly focused on national security

Ossoff trying to sell himself as an independent, moderate voice

Washington CNN  — 

Democrat Jon Ossoff’s latest television ad has all the hallmarks of a politician put on his heels by his opponents’ attacks on his national security bona fides.

The ad features Ossoff talking straight into the camera. And instead of his own message, he is responding to one that a Republican super PAC spent millions to put on the air in Atlanta. “Let’s put this to rest once and for all,” Ossoff says as the 30-second spot begins.

He goes on to denounce ISIS as “evil,” declare that “we have to stop them” and direct viewers to a beefed-up national security section on his campaign website. The website now features six sections – covering military funding, intelligence sharing, battling ISIS, fighting radicalization online and more – that weren’t there a month ago.

Just one week from the conclusion of the most expensive House race in history, the air battle between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel is increasingly focused on national security.

The dynamic emerged locally despite the national view that the race is a referendum on President Donald Trump. Ossoff – careful not to alienate persuadable voters in a heavily Republican district – rarely discusses Trump, instead selling himself as an independent, moderate voice. That has created an opening for Republicans to hammer him on issues that are important to their base and that aren’t directly tied to the President’s popularity.

It has also offered a possible preview of the Republican playbook as the party faces the prospect of defending dozens of House seats with an unpopular President in office in the 2018 midterms.

Ossoff’s experience under fire

At just 30 years old, Ossoff has made for a ripe target. He began the campaign touting his high-level national security clearance – though he has backed off his emphasis on the clearance after reports that he only held it for five months before leaving Rep. Hank Johnson’s staff. It’s led to endless attacks from Republicans who accuse Ossoff of inflating his resume.

His time leading a documentary filmmaking company has come under scrutiny, too – in part for its work with Al Jazeera, the Qatari-based media network that some conservatives have cast as aligned with terrorists, even though it is among the largest media networks in the world and has been praised by Western leaders for its coverage of the Arab Spring and other major stories.

His national security work and his company’s ties to Al Jazeera have both fed into the national security-related attack that Republican groups have driven relentlessly.

The Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee have connected their attacks on Ossoff’s resume to national security.

“This is a 30-year-old kid who can’t be trusted to keep us safe,” CLF executive director Corry Bliss said in an interview. “We live in serious times, and we need adult leadership, not a 30-year-old kid who has repeatedly been dishonest about his record.”

An NRCC ad claims: “Ossoff’s liberal party bosses brought 10,000 Syrian refugees to America, and Ossoff supports their dangerous Iran nuclear deal allowing billions for the leading sponsors of terrorism – billions that will fund terror while terrorists infiltrate and attack with our safety at risk.”

Ossoff’s response

Ossoff’s campaign didn’t reply to CNN’s request for an interview or comment for this story. His response has been in a series of direct-to-camera ads.

“I want to see ISIS destroyed,” he says in his new 30-second spot. “As an investigative filmmaker I helped expose atrocities committed by ISIS against women and girls. They are evil, and we have to stop them. That’s why I’ll work to make sure our military and intelligence community have every tool they need to fight terrorism, and you can read the details on my website.”

Two other ads also feature Ossoff directly rebutting the national security-focused attacks. One aired for four weeks in April and early May touting his work “with our military to strengthen our national defense” as a national security staffer. Another, which went on air May 27, per a media buying source, features Ossoff responding to “negative ads (that) say I’m soft on terrorism.”

“I sent a team to the front line against ISIS to expose their atrocities against women and girls. As a national security aid I worked with our military to strengthen our national defense. And I earned top secret clearance based on need to know,” he said, adding that “I love this country, and for them to say otherwise is disgraceful.”