Healthcare, education, immigration and the middle class remain the hot topics in the race to replace District 6 U.S. Rep. Tom Price, M.D., R-Roswell.

Though the Democratic candidates for that seat in the April 18 special election may disagree on some issues, they all concur this election will be the first in the nation to send a message on how the public views how it feels about the way the United States is being led by President Donald Trump.

“This is the first chance in the country for us to make a statement for what we stand for. … Like it or not, the eyes of the rest of the nation are on Georgia right now, because this is that first chance,” said candidate Jon Ossoff, an investigative film executive.

He and the four other Democratic candidates – sales senior manager Ragin Edwards; college professor Richard Keatley, Ph.D.; Rebecca Quigg, M.D.; and former State Sen. Ron Slotin – were invited to speak at the Flip the 6th District Democratic candidates forum hosted by the Fulton County Democratic Party’s Needles in a Haystack group and held March 12 at Andretti Indoor Karting and Games in Roswell. About 450 people attended the event. The district includes parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties.

A total of 18 candidates are running for the seat vacated by Price, who in February was confirmed as the new secretary of health and human services.

Two independents – filmmaker Alexander Hernandez and computer systems engineer Andre Pollard – and 11 Republicans – business executive David Abroms; Yunus Creative Lab Inc. CEO Mohammad Bhuiyan, Ph.D.; pilot Keith Grawert; technology executive Bob Gray; former Secretary of State Karen Handel; District 32 State Sen. Judson Hill; political activist Amy Kremer; entrepreneur Bruce LeVell; accountant William Llop; former State Sen. Dan Moody; and entrepreneur Kurt Wilson – are also running for the seat.

Edwards, whose job requires her to be a leader for that company, said more female leaders are needed in politics.

“Georgia is 49th in the nation in (the number of) females elected to federal office. I was surprised to hear that, too,” she said. “We have to change that. The only way we can is by voting for women in these positions. Women are strong. We’re capable. We’re good negotiators. Congress needs another Nancy Pelosi, another Maxine Waters, another Hillary Clinton. … We are the party of an equal voice. If that’s what we are, we need to put women in office. Women are the future.”

Edwards also said whoever is elected to replace Price must speak out against Trump when he proposes laws “that marginalize people.”

The truth shall set you free and I’ll fight for it,” she said.

Keatley, who teaches French and Italian at Georgia State University, said Georgia and the rest of the nation needs “debt-free college” for students who now must take out loans to pay for classes.

“I’ve seen students struggle,” he said. “Students are working 40 hours a week, taking a full class load and driving in this traffic and leaving (college) with a mound of debt. This is affecting the very nature of America, the innovation, like the lack of access to healthcare. When people feel like they have to buckle down, work for the man and give up their dreams, America loses.”

He also said the 2016 presidential election was a lesson for Democrats to not take the middle class for granted.

“My take is we lost the working class of the United States,” he said. “We as Democrats gave the impression, wrongly or not, that we’re cappuccino-swilling elitists. We have to have people who embody the American experience.”

Ossoff said his campaign has yielded $3.5 million in donations and an army of volunteers.

“I have been blown away by the grassroots efforts this campaign has had in the last two months,” he said. “We now have 7,000 volunteers working on the campaign. We have been knocking on thousands of doors each week, canvassing hundreds of neighborhoods.”

If elected, Quigg, a cardiologist, said she will battle to protect her constituents’ healthcare.

“You need someone like me who’s a fighter,” she said. “I fought for patients with their hearts in my hands. I fought for my patients by suing Walgreens about patients’ rights with prescriptions.”

Quigg also said she will also fight for immigrants.

“We cannot let this country deteriorate and lose our sense of decency,” she said. “We need to continue to fight in Georgia. We had a lot of protests here in Georgia with (Trump’s) first Muslim ban. … We need to continue to fight for every issue. We need to continue to protest, speak up.”

Slotin, a former business owner, served in the Georgia Senate from .

“I was there when we passed the HOPE scholarship, which was one of the best things ever done in Georgia,” he said. “I have a record of results and a record of working in a bipartisan fashion, working across party lines and getting things done in the district.”

While the candidates stuck to the issues for most of the forum, Slotin did criticize Ossoff for not yet filing his campaign disclosure statements with federal officials.

“I owned a business in Sandy Springs. … Jon, you own a business but it’s not … located in the United States,” he said of Ossoff’s England-based company. “You didn’t file your financial statements when they were due in February.”

After some audience members booed in response to that statement, Slotin said, “I’m not attacking him personally. I’m sure he can get someone to help him fill out a form that can take less than one hour.”

Ossoff later said he had until March 18 (after getting two extensions, according to the House clerk's website) to file those documents and planned to meet the deadline.

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