The four candidates in the two Senate runoffs have become inescapable to most Georgians: on television and the radio, online, and in mailboxes. The Jan. 5 elections will determine control of the U.S. Senate, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by both sides on the races.
The eyes of the country’s political world have been on Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for weeks now, and yet there still may be things some voters don’t know about them. And despite the polarized political climate, some things they even have in common.
For example, of the four, none ever held political office before running for the Senate. David Perdue was new to politics when he ran for his Senate seat in 2014, as was Kelly Loeffler when she was appointed a year ago. And on the Democratic side, despite Jon Ossoff’s high profile bid for the 6th Congressional District in 2017, neither he nor Rev. Raphael Warnock has ever held elected office.
However, three of the contenders did serve in student government. Loeffler was student council president in junior high. Warnock was his high school senior class president. Perdue was class president for three years of high school.
Warnock and Loeffler were both the first in their families to graduate from college.
Perdue and Ossoff both married women they have known for a long time. Perdue met his wife Bonnie in elementary school. Bonnie Perdue is a former special education teacher. Ossoff met his wife, Alisha Kramer in high school. Kramer is an OB/GYN resident in Atlanta.
And three of the candidates would be making history if elected. Loeffler would be the first woman elected to the Senate from Georgia. (She, and her only female predecessor, Rebecca Felton, were appointed.) Warnock would be Georgia’s first Senator of color, and Ossoff would be its first Jewish Senator.
Listen to the audio stories attached for more on the candidates’ backgrounds. And here are some other things you might not know about them.
There’s a David Perdue Elementary School. Perdue’s father was superintendent of Houston County Public Schools for two decades and the Warner Robins school bears his name. It was an elected position, and Perdue recalled his dad “hated” the politics. “I hated it,” he said, though as a 10-year-old he served as a campaign volunteer, handing out his father’s cards to shops in town. But Perdue, Sr. stuck with the position, because of the impact it allowed him to have. “He got job offers that would have been much more money…but he felt like his calling was that county, that school system,” he said. “Even today, that school system really bears the mark of his 20 year period there.” Perdue, Sr. led the school system through integration, one of the first counties in Georgia to do so. David Perdue said he was writing a book about that integration with Herman Cain when Cain died this year.
Jon Ossoff grew up as the child of activists. Ossoff’s mother, an Australian immigrant, was a feminist activist who marched in the 1970s for the Equal Rights Amendment. In 2013 she helped found a PAC dedicated to raising money for women candidates, from both parties, in Georgia. Ossoff’s father founded C.A.U.T.I.O.N., a group that successfully fought a proposed interstate through Atlanta in the 1980s to protect the city’s parks and historic neighborhoods. There’s a photo of Ossoff as a toddler door knocking for former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, who joined the interstate fight. “My upbringing really instilled in me a sense that engagement in civic life and in the decisions that a community makes about how it develops and runs itself, and how people relate to each other in the public sphere,” Ossoff said. “That was just always instilled in me as an important part of being a citizen.”
Kelly Loeffler is the only Chartered Financial Analyst in Congress. It’s one of the highest certifications available in the investment management world, focused on investment analysis and portfolio management. “I worked very hard to build a successful career over three decades,” she said. “I worked hard to put myself through school, to earn a CFA…it’s a hard designation to earn.” The designation requires multiple exams and work experience. Before her appointment a year ago, Loeffler was the chief executive of Bakkt, a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange (also known as ICE, which was founded and is still run by Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher). Bakkt created the country’s first federally regulated cryptocurrency futures exchange in 2019. Loeffler had previously worked as ICE’s head of communications, marketing and investor relations.
Raphael Warnock was a peer counselor in high school and a peer counseling consultant in college. Through a volunteer program with the local health department, he and other teenagers were trained to help their peers with responsible reproductive healthcare, drug addiction, alcohol abuse and physical abuse. “I grew up in public housing. So I saw what happened when girls had their track towards graduation interrupted by pregnancy. I saw firsthand what that did, and how that got in the way of their ability to move on, to graduate, to pursue higher education,” he said. That experience helped him pay for college too, because Warnock was hired by the Department of Public Health as a consultant. He traveled the state to set up programs in other schools. Warnock said he wrote Georgia’s official curriculum guide on teenage peer intervention.