Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff is fighting Republican attacks over his business ties to China as the Georgia runoff nears, but the Hunter Biden and Eric Swalwell scandals involving Beijing aren’t making it any easier.
Mr. Biden, the president-elect’s son, and California Democratic Rep. Swalwell have kept stories about Beijing’s influence in the news, lending oxygen to Republicans hammering Mr. Ossoff’s link to a Hong Kong conglomerate owned in part by the Chinese communist government.
Mr. Ossoff, a Democrat challenging Republican Sen. David Perdue in the Jan. 5 runoff, slipped a few points in the Dec. 18 poll by the Trafalgar Group, which pollster Robert Cahaly attributed primarily to the China issue.
“The movement, from what we can see, is more of the Ossoff-Perdue race,” Mr. Cahaly told Fox News. “The voters are telling us that the movement is about the China thing. I think the attacks on Ossoff about his connections to China are working for Perdue.”
For Mr. Ossoff, the timing could hardly be worse.
Alarm over Chinese influence soared starting in mid-October with new reports of Hunter Biden’s lucrative business deals with Beijing, followed by an Axios investigation earlier this month into a suspected Chinese spy who became chummy with some California Democrats, including Mr. Swalwell.
The Perdue campaign connected the dots in a digital ad with news clips of critics, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, raising concerns about Mr. Ossoff’s company receiving payments from PCCW Media, which is owned in part by China Unicom, a state-run telecommunications provider.
The ad, “Jon Ossoff Has a China Problem,” ends with a photo of Mr. Swalwell posing with Christine Fang, the suspected Chinese operative who’s also known as Fang Fang.
“Ossoff had to amend his financial dealings,” says Fox News host Dana Perino in a news clip in the ad released Dec. 16. “I’ve got to tell you, America has been given a wake-up call in this Swalwell thing. Now, who do they target? Young, up-and-coming progressive people. If I were in Georgia, I’d take a look.”
The race is skin-tight, but Mr. Ossoff has trended in the wrong direction. The latest Trafalgar poll showed Mr. Perdue ahead with committed and leaning voters by 50.2% to 47.5% for Mr. Ossoff, even though the Democrat led in the Dec. 11 poll by 49.1% to 48.8%.
The China issue erupted in September after National Review reported that Mr. Ossoff amended his May 15 financial-disclosure report in July to reflect that his London-based investigative-film company, Insight TWI, received funding from PCCW. China owns an 18% share of PCCW.
The Georgia Republican Party filed an ethics complaint on Dec. 8, accusing the Democrat of trying to hide his PCCW connection before the June 9 primary, which the Ossoff campaign dismissed as a “laughable smear campaign.”
The Ossoff campaign, which added payments from a total of 32 groups to its May 15 filing, attributed the revisions to a “paperwork oversight” that was discovered after a “normal review of the campaign’s paperwork,” according to FactCheck.org.
The campaign also pushed back on a Senate Leadership Fund ad last month that said Mr. Ossoff was “hiding cash from Chinese communists,” with an Ossoff spokesperson saying that the payments came from royalties from the airing of two Insight TWI documentaries, and that “PCCW does not = Chinese communists.”
Even so, Mr. Ossoff has been dogged by the issue. Hecklers waved Chinese flags last month at an Ossoff rally. The Perdue campaign released a 30-second spot Monday showing a red map of China and Chinese troops juxtaposed with photos of Mr. Ossoff.
“We know Ossoff was paid by the communist Chinese government through a media company,” says the 30-second ad. “He tried hiding, it got caught, then lied … Why did China really pay Ossoff? What’s he hiding?”
The issue was the subject of debate Monday on “The Georgia Gang,” the state’s longest-running public-affairs program. Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson called the attacks on Mr. Ossoff “totally, totally false,” citing an unnamed media fact-check.
“While it’s fair for Sen. Perdue to make that claim, I think the only difference is you’ve got to back it up with evidence, especially when it’s been thoroughly vetted to be false,” said Mr. Johnson on the Fox5 Atlanta show.
The Ossoff campaign said in a statement to National Review that the candidate “strongly supports Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and condemns the brutality and authoritarianism of the Chinese Communist Party.”
That wasn’t strong enough, said Phil Kent, CEO and publisher of InsiderAdvantage, an online publication focused on Georgia business and politics.
“If you want to convince us, Mr. Ossoff, condemn the communist Chinese government for their infiltration in America, for their horrible human rights record, their crushing of independence in Hong Kong,” Mr. Kent said. “Even Joe Biden has to be very careful with all of this controversy about China. So Ossoff better renounce China and any ties.”
The Senate ethics form requires candidates to disclose any income over $5,000, but the campaign told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Mr. Ossoff’s company received about $1,000 from PCCW, which means it did not need to be reported.
Why disclose it? The Ossoff camp said it did so in the interest of transparency, according to the newspaper, although critics say there has been little in the way of openness on the issue.
“Back in May, just before Democratic primary, Jon Ossoff hid the fact that he received all this money for his media company from the Chinese Communist government, and he said it was a mistake and an oversight,” said Mr. Kent. “Well, come on, what a joke that was.”
The Ossoff campaign cited the AJC article, which ran on Dec. 9, after being contacted for comment by the Washington Times.
The runoff election also features a race between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock. The outcome of the two races will determine control of the Senate.