Stacey Abrams campaigns in Liberty County Georgia Credit: Craig Nelson / The Current

The crowd arrived from Hinesville, and St. Mary’s, Long County and Garden City. The Deltas wore red dresses, while retired school teachers favored stretchy pants. Older members of the 400-strong audience sat in lawn chairs. Others sought shade under the live oak tree.

Shortly after noon, when Stacey Abrams introduced herself under the portico of the historic Dorchester Academy in Liberty County, this congregation of admirers rose as one. 

“Go, girl!” yelled Doris Lampkin, an administrator for the Fort Stewart school system. “Georgia needs you.”

Abrams, the sole Democratic Party candidate in Georgia’s governor’s race, selected Coastal Georgia as among her first campaign stops, working from a playbook that relies on an engaged base of Black professionals like those in Liberty County to help her and other Democrats win state and federal office this November.

In a 20-minute speech she told the assembled crowd of longtime Democrats of her competitive advantages over the Republican field, talking points that focused on connecting with their problems. Abrams spoke of her family’s struggles for affordable health care, finding caregivers for family members and worries that her niece could fall behind in school during the Covid pandemic. She spoke of her experience as a small business owner and of opportunity for Georgians who look like her.

Among the predominantly Black crowd, her messaging was largely positive and inspirational. Abrams presented a much different atmosphere than one of her competitors from the Republican Party, David Perdue, during a breakfast meeting with Chatham County Republicans last week. His speech, which was preceded by a video clip from former President Donald Trump, focused on the former leader’s obsession with non-existent voter fraud in 2020, the election in which Georgians voted Trump and Perdue out of office.

Perdue Kemp composite

Gov. Brian Kemp, who beat Abrams in 2018, is facing the former Georgia senator in an acrimonious primary May 24. Perdue has blamed Kemp for losing key races to Democrats in 2020; Kemp’s camp blames Trump and Perdue for splitting the state Republican Party into two factions and weakening the party’s recent dominance in Georgia.

Instead of waiting to see who will win the Republican gubernatorial primary, Abrams last week kicked of a statewide tour of smaller towns and rural areas to introduce herself to Georgia voters who rarely attract major political figures and seldom rank as a bellwether in state political races.  She is scheduled to return to Liberty once again in late April.

Georgia is divided in many ways, but one of the more noticeable splits is between the fast-growing, economically booming greater metro Atlanta and the rest of the state. The most recent U.S. Census shows that 67 of 159 Georgia counties lost residents between 2010-2020. At the same time, four counties around Atlanta accounted for half the state’s growth.

Democrats who want to shore up their 2020 victories in which the party won Georgia’s two Senate seats are hoping that rising voter turnout rates in smaller counties like Glynn and Liberty can replicate the Blue wave. Any Democratic vote is a good vote, they say, no matter if it’s in greater Atlanta or “Notlanta.”

Amani White, an 18-year-old high school senior from Hinesville, was one of the few young voters at Abrams’ Saturday rally. Surrounded by people her mother’s and grandmother’s age, White highlighted a potential weak link in the state Democrats’ strategy. Few of her fellow students are politically active, she said, and she’s not convinced that many will vote in November.

“I will make sure my friends vote,” she said. “But I just don’t know about lots of others.”

Margaret Coker, the editor-in-chief, started her two-decade career in journalism at Cox Newspapers before going to work at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. In that time she covered stories...