ATLANTA — "This was a pretty wild first time candidate experience," Jon Ossoff reflected, looking back on his failed candidacy to flip a congressional district not far down the road during a Saturday morning panel at Netroots Nation.
Ossoff's appearance at the annual gathering of progressives was early in the morning, a detail that showed in the dozens of empty seats open throughout the room. Nevertheless, several conference-goers sported bright blue t-shirts with his name emblazoned across the chest.
The 30-year-old Democrat struck an optimistic tone in his remarks, repeatedly arguing that his showing in the June special election was positive because it forced Republicans to spend more than $20 million dollars and created an "infrastructure" that will have a "lasting positive impact in the community." Ossoff contended that "people's heads would have exploded" if you told experts a Democrat with his policy positions — for instance, being pro-choice on abortion and pro-gay rights — would have "put up the kind of fight" that he did in a Republican district.
"There's been a lot of hand-wringing in the aftermath of these specials, and I don't think there should be," he said.
But Ossoff wasn't all positive, slamming the Republican Party for its attacks on his candidacy. "The campaign that the national GOP ran down here was so cynical, so divisive," he recalled. "It was all about us versus them, appeals to tribalism." Among Ossoff's regrets is that he didn't "[push] back more strongly" against those assaults. He also wished the campaign had set up more early voting sites.
"Get off of the internet, and get on the doors, because Democrats are united no matter what you hear on cable news or in the hot takes," he told activists in the audience. Not everyone was so confident. During the question and answer session, one woman challenged Ossoff's assertion that the party wasn't divided. "You said that we're united, but I'm not convinced," she said, citing her experiences with "Bernie people" plotting to take over local Democratic parties.
After losing his race despite a massive financial advantage, Ossoff himself became a lightning rod of sorts for attacks from disgruntled Democrats who disagreed over his candidacy.
Just moments after his panel concluded on Saturday, unrelenting protesters disrupted Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Evans' remarks at the morning plenary. Apparently supporters of Evans' primary rival, Stacey Abrams, they drowned out Evans' speech with chants of "Trust black women" and "Stacey Evans is not progressive."
After powering through her prepared remarks, which were almost impossible to hear in the ballroom, Evans left the stage to a chorus of boos.
For his part, Ossoff quipped that his takeaways should be "[taken] with a grain of salt," adding, "I didn't win the campaign."
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.