Six Georgetown University students traveled to Georgia’s 6th Congressional District to observe local campaigns for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service’s #HoyasInGA trip this month.
The three-day trip connected the students to campaign staffers, party leaders and media figures focused on the district’s special election to replace Tom Price’s seat, who was appointed secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by President Donald Trump.
Georgetown alumnus Jon Ossoff (SFS ’09) is running as a Democrat in the special election to fill the seat. Ossoff has come under fire for videos from his time at Georgetown that have resurfaced.
Ossoff has raised $8.3 million for the election, more than any other candidate has ever raised for an election in the 6th Congressional District, according to the Chicago Tribune. A Democrat has not held the seat for nearly four decades.
The students, who were selected through an application process, met with campaign staffers, attended a debate amongst the top five Republican contenders for the party nomination and met candidates including Ossoff and Judson Hill, a Republican.
GU Politics Chief of Staff Hanna Hope, who organized the trip, said a big reason for the project was to allow students to take part in a unique campaign process.
“Since the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District is the first competitive race after the 2016 Presidential election, coupled with a Hoya as one of the candidates, it seemed like a great opportunity to take a group of Georgetown students to Georgia and give them the chance to experience the energy and excitement of a hotly contested special election first hand,” Hope wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Jack Dobkin (SFS ’19), one of the students who participated in the trip, said he has previously volunteered in other Georgia political campaigns, including Michelle Nunn’s 2014 Senate run in Georgia and Jason Carter’s 2014 gubernatorial race.
“While I was home for spring break, I was able to volunteer with Jon Ossoff’s campaign and went out canvassing for him as much as I could before heading back up to D.C.,” Dobkin wrote in an email to The Hoya. “When I heard about the opportunity to return to the district and get greater insight into the race, the campaigns and the candidates, I couldn’t have jumped at the chance faster.”
Hope said the trip was a unique learning opportunity for students who have been focusing on government in their academic careers, but perhaps have not had the chance to participate in the field.
“This was a great opportunity for students to take what they learn in the classroom about campaigns and elections, and see how that measures up on the ground. It was also an exciting chance to see how the American electorate is responding to everything, since we’re living within the D.C. bubble,” Hope wrote.
Dobkin said the race is surprisingly competitive because Trump’s victory in the district was a smaller margin than Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s margin of victory in 2012.
“What normally might not get much attention due to the safely-conservative nature of the district has turned into a heated race that people nationwide have their eyes on because of the unusually tight vote this November,” Dobkin wrote.
According to Dobkin, the rushed nature of the campaigns is one of the main obstacles campaign staffers and candidates must overcome in order to run a successful campaign.
“The operations of the campaigns, as well as the press, all had to launch into everything they would normally do over a span of months or even a year in just a few weeks,” Dobkin wrote. “And further, given the national attention that this race has been getting, there is unusually high activity in this race as compared to a ‘typical’ special election, meaning that all of these actors are dealing with more demands than usual in a special election, even though they still have that same short amount of time.”
Samantha Granville (COL ’17), another student who attended the trip, said that encouraging turnout during special elections can be problematic.
“Voter turnout is always the biggest challenge in elections. However, factoring in that this was a special election in an off year, each campaign has even a bigger challenge,” Granville wrote in an email to The Hoya. “With such a toxic campaign season in 2016, many people want to take a break from politics and have little to no interest in local politics.”
Hope also said students could witness the importance of races and campaigns beyond the presidential election.
“I’d argue that students should be paying attention to all elections, not just Presidential elections,” Hope wrote. “There are elections happening across the country all the time on a variety of levels, and they are all important. I’d encourage students to be constantly engaged, and not just in a Presidential Election year.”
Granville noted that the highlight of the trip was having a dynamic discussion and collaborating with a diverse group of students.
“My favorite part of the trip was spending time with my fellow Hoyas,” Granville wrote. “We all come from different backgrounds and have different political perspectives, but were able to discuss issues in a respectful manner to learn more about the current political scene and we challenged each other to defend our beliefs. It was proof that we can think differently about issues, but still maintain friendships to get work done.”