Will the 2022 gubernatorial race give us real debate about issues in God’s country?

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Now that the bloodied political corpse of David Alfred Perdue has been sent to his final resting place at Sea Island (without, we can probably assume, even a brief opportunity to lay in state at Mar-a-Lago), the rematch both expected governor heavyweights between incumbent Republican Brian Kemp and Democratic Party challenger Stacey Abrams can start in earnest.

It’s probably been going on for a while now. Early last week, even before the party primaries, the Kemp camp fired a salvo to Abrams for what they and some in the media called a “blunder” – a statement that she was tired of listening to Kemp bragging that Georgia was the No. 1 state in which to do business when c was “the worst state in the country to live in.”

I’m going to offer a contrarian point of view.

Georgia as a whole might not deserve the “worst place to live” label, but rural Georgia definitely does. In fact, much of Georgia Republican would qualify for that title.

Abrams has since acknowledged that her statement was “inelegant,” but she doubled down on her midpoint — and she’s right. In the process, she may have sparked a long-awaited gubernatorial debate about what to do about the problems in God’s country.

Let’s take a look at the 105 rural counties in Georgia* with populations under 35,000.

Together, these counties had an average per capita income (PCI) of $39,027 in 2020. That’s just 65.6% of the national average** and $3,103 less than Mississippi, which is the actual state. at the bottom of the country’s 2020 PCI heap, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Per capita income in Georgia’s other 54 counties was $54,183, or 91% of the national average.

These 105 counties, according to Census Bureau Data for the years 2015-2019, were home to more high school dropouts than college graduates – 210,748 to 184,399. Again, rural Georgia makes Mississippi look good: Magnolia State actually has more college graduates than high school dropouts – 435,153 compared to 306,105.

What about the state of health, will you tell me? Glad you asked. The 2020 premature death rate for these 105 counties arrives at a third global figure: 12,148 years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 people in these 105 counties. That’s nearly 50 percent worse than the premature death rate for the rest of Georgia: 8,304.

It’s also significantly worse than the actual states at the bottom of the national list. According to the latest data from County Health Rankings and RoadmapsMississippi is dead last with a YPLL 75 rate of 11,324, and Alabama, third from bottom, has a relatively stellar rate of 10,350. (Here, I have to admit, I’m comparing slightly different apple sizes. I pull Georgia County data from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) while relying on county health rankings for other state-level data.Numbers will vary slightly, but not a lot.)

(For what it’s worth, I’d suggest Abrams directly criticize the underpinnings of the state’s vaunted claim to be the #1 state in which to do business, but I’ll save that for another article. )

It should also be noted, as I suggested above, that rural Georgia is predominantly Republican. Those 105 counties combined gave Kemp 71% of their vote to Abrams’ 28% in the 2018 gubernatorial race, and not much has changed since then. They went 70% for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Based on those numbers alone, Abrams could be forgiven if she didn’t bother to campaign or invest campaign resources outside of metro Atlanta and other Democratic strongholds in the state. Every minute or dollar she spends trying to win a new vote in, say, Glascock County is a minute or dollar she won’t have to win a safe vote in metro Atlanta.

But she’s at least pretending to go after rural Georgia votes. In fact, she launched her campaign in Cuthbert, Georgia. I have been to Cuthbert. It’s not easy to get there. A route suggested by Google Maps is to drive through Alabama, drive south to Eufaula and turn left.

Additionally, she has christened her campaign “One Georgia” and regularly peppers her public remarks with references to rural Georgia. His the campaign website includes a decent section on “rural revitalization” which sets out promises to expand Medicaid (which Kemp and his Republican predecessor, Nathan Deal, refused to do, despite polls showing broad public support), invest in rural broadband, and revise funding for rural education.

Still, it must be said that his bet on rural Georgia is a long shot and Kemp enters the campaign as a prohibitive favorite. I couldn’t find any comparable language on rural policy on his campaign website, but his administration’s recent economic development victories (Rivian, Aspen Aerogels and now Hyundai) may be more than enough of an answer. Kemp also begins the general election campaign as a political giant killer. He beat Perdue by 52 percentage points and knocked out Donald J. Trump in the process, perhaps crippling him not just in Georgia but nationally.

But even if Abrams fails to break into the GOP’s rural stronghold and fails again, she seems certain to force a long-overdue political discussion about the unrest in God’s Country — and it will be no small public service.

*Georgia counties with populations under 35,000: Appling Atkinson Bacon Baker Banks Ben Hill Berrien Bleckley Brantley Brooks Burke Butts Calhoun Candler Charlton Chattahoochee Chattooga Clay Clinch Cook Crawford Crisp Dade Dawson Decatur Dodge Dooly Early Echols Elbert Emanuel Evans Fannin Franklin Gilmer Glascock Grady Greene Hancock Haralson Hart Heard Irwin Jasper Jeff Davis Jefferson Jenkins Johnson Jones Lamar Lanier Lee Lincoln Long Lumpkin Macon Madison Marion McDuffie McIntosh Meriwether Miller Mitchell Monroe Montgomery Morgan Oglethorpe Peach Pickens Pierce Pike Pulaski Putnam Quitman Rabun Randolph Schley Screven Seminole Stephens Stewart Sumter Talbot Taliaferro Tattnall Taylor Telfair Terrell Toombs Towns Treutlen Turner Twiggs Union Upson Warren Washington Wayne Webster Wheeler White Wilcox Wilkes Wilkinson Worth

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