Amid the heated midterm elections, Georgia on the minds of many

Major Hollywood figures are campaigning in the Peach State, whose booming film industry has brought in billions

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Once a political write-off for the Democrats, the US state of Georgia is once again in play in the 2022 midterm elections, and everyone from former presidents to pop stars is heading south to back Democratic candidates.

A long-time blue state, it was not until 2002 that Georgia turned deep red, when it elected its first Republican governor since the 1870s. In 2005, Republicans took over both of the state's Senate seats, which they managed to hang on to for 16 years.

As the Democratic Party had all but dismissed the state, no heavy hitters were being sent down to campaign and less overall funding was flowing in from the Democratic National Committee’s coffers.

“It’s a disaster what’s going on down there,” John Kerry, who was US secretary of state at the time, told a staffer in 2014 as he reluctantly got on a plane from Washington to Atlanta to make a campaign appearance for Senate candidate Michelle Nunn.

Trevor Noah on the set of The Daily Show in Atlanta, Georgia. Matt Wilson / Comedy Central

That all changed in 2020, when two scrappy underdogs, Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Raphael Warnock, triumphed over two Republican incumbents to split the Senate in half.

Vice President Kamala Harris, with her tiebreaking vote, gave Democrats control of the chamber, which had not occurred since former president Bill Clinton was in office in 2001.

President Joe Biden won the state, but by a narrow margin, with less than 19,000 votes.

And so, in the gubernatorial rematch between Democrat Stacey Abrams, a voting rights advocate and former state representative, and incumbent Brian Kemp, politicians and celebrities are falling over themselves to hit the state's red clay.

Last week, former president Barack Obama headlined a rally in College Park, Georgia, alongside Ms Abrams and Mr Warnock, who is running neck and neck with Republican challenger and former football star Herschel Walker.

Mr Obama couldn’t resist taking a potshot at Mr Walker, who has lied about his education, work credentials, charities and even the number of children he has fathered.

“Let’s do a thought experiment,” Mr Obama told the crowd. “Let’s say you’re at the airport and see Mr Walker and you say, ‘Hey, there’s Herschel Walker, Heisman trophy winner, let’s have him fly the plane.’ You probably wouldn’t say that.”

Polls show that Mr Warnock and Mr Walker are in a dead heat, despite allegations of abuse from Mr Walker’s former wife and other family members.

“It is astonishing to me that a man who is well educated, has a degree in philosophy and is a pastor can even be challenged by someone like Walker,” said one Georgia voter.

“It’s one thing to vote for him quietly, but to actually put a sign in your yard, that’s another.”

And even though many of Hollywood’s A-listers have either hit the Atlanta pavement with Ms Abrams or taken to their social media, FiveThirtyEight shows her in an uphill fight.

Comedian Will Ferrell stops for a hotdog while campaigning for Stacey Abrams at Kennesaw State University in northwest Georgia. Photo: Kennesaw State University

This past week, John Legend, Natalie Portman, Jenifer Lewis and Sarah Michelle Gellar were spotted on the campaign trail. Selena Gomez, Kerry Washington, Lin Manual-Miranda, Oprah Winfrey, Jason Alexander, Will Ferrell, America Ferrera and Stevie Wonder have made appearances in the campaign either in person or in dedicated social media spots.

“I have worked with Stacey personally and her commitment to improving mental health access in Georgia is extremely important to me as the state currently ranks 48th in nation,” Gomez said in an Instagram post.

Last week, Trevor Noah taped The Daily Show with Trevor Noah from Atlanta’s Tabernacle Theatre — his guests: Ms Abrams, Ms Warnock and a handful of hip-hop stars. Mr Walker, of course, was the butt of many jokes.

And — thanks arguably in large part to Ms Abrams's efforts during the 2020 election — Georgians have shattered records for early voting.

Stacey Abrams, Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia, and musical artist Common get out the vote on the streets of Atlanta. Bloomberg

“By close of business today, two million Georgians will have cast their ballot in person — a record for early voting in a midterm,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

“Georgia is the state where voters show up early, and our county election directors have created that infrastructure to make it a resounding success.”

The reason why all the glitterati have travelled across the country to campaign in Georgia is a simple one: Georgia's movie industry ranks number one globally in the production of the top-grossing feature films, followed by the UK, Canada, California, Louisiana and New York.

In a news release, Mr Kemp’s office said productions spent $4.4 billion in Georgia during the fiscal year for 2022 — something for which he is all too quick to take credit.

“I encourage you to vote for this lady [Stacey Abrams] … My community, the entertainment community, does a lot of time and energy here in this state so it is important to us who ends up running this state,” said Seinfeld star Jason Alexander at an event in Marietta, Georgia.

Mr Kemp's pro-gun laws and extreme limits on the reproductive rights of Georgia’s female citizens have led many in the entertainment industry to threaten to pull up stakes in he wins a second term, despite the state’s generous tax incentives.

“The health of a woman is more important. We’ll find somewhere else to film,” said a director who wished to remain anonymous.

In fiscal year 2021, Georgia doled out $1.2bn in film and TV tax credits. That was 40 per cent higher than the state’s previous record, $860 million, which was set in 2019.

Updated: December 07, 2022, 5:10 AM