ATLANTA, Ga – Benefiting his frontrunner status, Democrat Jon Ossoff was the focus of the most attention Wednesday night as a crowded field of congressional hopefuls took the stage for an Atlanta Press Club-sponsored debate.

All 18 candidates seeking to become the 6th district’s next congressperson were on stage for the debate, held at downtown Atlanta's Georgia-Pacific headquarters and moderated by 11Alive’s Jeff Hullinger.

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“I feel like Bernie Sanders,” said Ron Slotin, a former two-term state senator and one of five Democrats hoping to capture the traditional GOP stronghold. “The Democratic Party has no business being involved in a congressional race at this point.

"The Republican Party is letting this race play out, and if our party were smart, they’d be backing two Democrats instead of one. That’s the best way to flip this district.”

Ossoff, a first-time candidate who lives just outside the district, secured the early backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has also brought in several staffers for his campaign. He's also gotten the support of Hollywood celebrities like Alyssa Milano.

RELATED: Verifying Jon Ossoff's national security background

Democrat Ragin Edwards said she felt slighted when it became apparent that Ossoff is the party’s chosen candidate.

“I feel like I got played,” Edwards said. “My family has supported the Democratic Party for a long time. But that’s why it’s important to look at every candidate in the race.”

Independent Alexander Hernandez said the party “hasn’t learned a thing since the 2016 primaries,” when reports surfaced the Democratic National Committee appeared to back Hillary Clinton over Sanders for the presidential nomination.

Ossoff also drew the ire of Republican Karen Handel who, along with the GOP’s Bob Gray, are trailing Ossoff for second place in the April 18 primary.

RELATED: Exclusive 11Alive poll shows Ossoff dominating 6th district GOP stronghold

“You’re bankrolled to the tune of $4 million from outside the district,” Handel told Ossoff. “How can people trust you to represent them when people like Nancy Pelosi and George Soros are financing your campaign?”

Throughout the evening, Ossoff stressed that much of his campaign is being financed by small donations, and that he isn’t beholden to special interests.

“I’m very proud of the diverse coalition we’ve built,” Ossoff said. “I am accountable to this broad base of people who have dug deep into their pockets and given $40 and $50.”

PHOTOS: 6th district congressional debate

All of the candidates’ fundraising numbers and financial disclosures will be released on Thursday.

Other debate highlights:

Republicans sparred among themselves on the effect of President Donald Trump in the race.

  • Gray: Trump voters across this district are extremely activated just like the rest of the country. The president spoke above the media to those people who feel like they’ve been forgotten.
  • Bruce Levell: The president has gotten a bad rap from the liberal media that tried to portray him as something he’s not. We brought 10% of the black vote to the table, the most since Richard Nixon. Stay tuned for 2020, because we’ll more than triple that.
  • Judson Hill: This race is not a referendum on the president. People in the 6th district believe in lowering taxed, cutting regulations, an affordable healthcare system and strong immigration laws.
  • Dan Moody: People in the district want government to get the heck out of the way and do what it was intended to do. And its excited to have a Supreme Court nominee that is in the image of Antonin Scalia.

Quotes of the night:

  • Handel to Ossoff: Let's be realistic. You haven't raised $4 million to $5 million from $50 donations.
  • Independent Andre Pollard: Nothing coming out of the White House is benefiting the nation. We’re going back to the dark ages.
  • Republican Kurt Wilson: Lobbyists control Washington; special interests control Washington. It’s an elite house of lords and ladies.
  • Republican William Llop: My father was born in Italy, raised in Spain, and came over in 1936 and assimilated himself into the American economy by learning English. Immigrants need to assimilate and become an American.
  • Republican Dr. Mohammed Ali Bhuiyan: I’m a Muslim candidate but no other religions are questioned in this race. A few Muslim bad apples doesn’t make every Muslim bad.

11Alive has the most extensive digital coverage of the 6th district special election.