The crowds began to gather outside Santa Fe Mall in Duluth hours before the rally started, with dozens of Latino voters parked in neat rows in front of an outdoor stage, partly to hear from U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock — and partly to hear from their high-wattage supporters.
“We’re not from Georgia, but we’re Americans — and Georgia, all eyes are on you again,” actress Eva Longoria said as she strode across the platform to a cascade of car horns. “Let me tell you — you guys saved the soul of this nation in November. And you’re gonna do it again.”
Celebrities aren’t just promoting campaigns. They’re staging entire shows on their behalf and personally stumping for them on the campaign trail ahead of Jan. 5 runoffs for control of the U.S. Senate. And while most of the star power is helping Democrats, U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are getting in on the act, too.
Boldly going in support of candidates
Earlier this month, the cast of the Broadway smash “Hamilton” held a “History is Happening in Georgia” online holiday show for the two Democrats. You could call it the “Zoom where it happened.”
Earlier that day, donors who gave to the Democratic Party of Georgia watched a reunion of the cast of the Christmas movie “Elf” featuring Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, Andy Richter and other stars perform a live table read of the show.
Around the midway mark, actor and Atlanta native Ed Helms noted that the cast couldn’t sing “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” at the end because of legal issues, adding with a smile that “perhaps Republicans own the rights.”
Then there was Stacey Abrams’ favorite event: A “Star Trek: The Next Election” discussion featuring the Georgia Democrat — a self-confessed Trekkie — and veterans of the show.
Republicans love to hate Hollywood, and Vice President Mike Pence made time this month during stump speeches in Augusta and Columbus to talk about Republicans sending a message about Christian values to “Democrats in Washington and liberals in Hollywood.”
But the GOP has leaned on its own celebrities to help out ahead of the runoffs, too. The Lee Greenwood Band belted out fan favorites after a Republican rally in Canton a few weekends ago, and Loeffler joined Travis Tritt for a concert in Smyrna earlier in the month.
“Is everybody here fired up? Absolutely. 100%. We are fired up. What are we going to do?” Tritt said after embracing Loeffler on stage.
Someone shouted “vote!”
Sure, but first, Tritt said, “we are going to do a drawing” for a gun giveaway.
Said Loeffler: “We’re gonna get this done because, together, we are going to show America that this is a red state.”
She used the same line Monday in Milton when nearly a thousand GOP faithful came out to see Loeffler, Perdue and a TV star of their very own, Ivanka Trump.
After the political rally for Loeffler and Perdue, Trump’s fans pressed in close to line up for selfies and autographs with the strikingly tall and blond daughter of the president. Donald Trump’s own 15-season run on NBC’s “The Apprentice” introduced him to millions of future voters as the star of one of the top-rated shows in television.
Jeremy, a 21-year-old college student from Milton who didn’t want to give his full name out of concern about future job prospects, said he watched Ivanka Trump and her father for years on “The Apprentice” and went to the GOP rally to “support our senators and save America.”
He peeled himself out of the line with a smile and a fist pump, eager to show his buddies the selfie he managed to snap with Ivanka Trump on his phone.
“She’s been my crush forever!” he told them.
Artists see Georgia as home, workplace
Even though bashing “Hollywood liberals” is still a go-to line for older Republicans such as Pence, attacking the movie industry as a whole in Georgia has lost some of its luster over the years as the state has worked hard to woo movie productions and draw the billions of dollars in local investment and jobs that have come with them.
Plenty of movie studios, music studios and artists now call Georgia home, and both parties have leaned on them for help since the November election.
Apart from the individual Senate campaigns and events, Abrams’ Fair Fight Action has driven a massive parallel effort to drive voter registration and engagement for the runoffs through new productions and events, often featuring Georgia-based and Georgia-born artists.
The group hosted an online “Rock the Runoff” concert earlier in the month with Georgia musicians such as Michael Stipe, Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri joining John Legend, Common and Justin Timberlake.
They also organized four Atlanta-based artists to create an enormous mural featuring themes about health care, civil rights and voting rights that Fair Fight Action now uses in its get-out-the-vote messaging.
And Augusta-born Danielle Brooks is the first voice on the newest rendition of “Georgia on My Mind,” which was conceived, recorded and released in less than two weeks after Audra McDonald reached out to Fair Fight to ask whether she could do something to support the group.
The result was a sweeping, modernized chorus of more than 60 Broadway artists covering the song on Zoom, with the proceeds going toward Fair Fight’s efforts.
‘No famous person can sway you’
So does any of this make a difference in whether a person registers or votes, and especially, who they vote for in the end?
Trevor Iannone, who went to see Ivanka Trump in Milton, is skeptical.
“When you do your research, no famous person can sway you a certain way,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean the famous people from both parties won’t give it a try anyway.
“We deserve to have our voices heard,” America Ferrera said at one of her stops in Georgia, directing her comments to Latino voters who usually skip runoffs. “Talk to everyone you know — and remind them that this election is as consequential as the one in November.”