TUNICA, Miss. -- Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams says she likes to tell people that she's Georgia-grown but Mississippi-raised.
Abrams returned to her state of birth Friday and regaled attendees of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute's annual policy conference in Tunica with stories of her upbringing in Gulfport and Mississippi's Gulf Coast region, using the vignettes to explain why she's vying to become the nation's first black woman governor.
"I'm not running for me," Abrams told a conference luncheon Friday. "I'm running for my family, I'm running for my community, I'm running for the South. And when we win the South, we win America."
The daughter of United Methodist ministers who struggled to make ends meet, Abrams recounted visits to Hattiesburg -- where her parents grew up -- that always included a stop to visit a woman named "Miss Gert."
Abrams said she and her siblings didn't know why they always made the stop until their mother, the Rev. Carolyn Abrams, explained that "Miss Gert" encouraged and helped her to return to school after she dropped out in the third grade.
Abrams said her mother went on to become the valedictorian of her high school and pursued higher education at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., and Emory University in Atlanta.
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"I tell this story of 'Miss Gert' because of what this organization is here for, what we're here for," said Abrams, whose family moved to Atlanta from Mississippi in 1989. "In this room are the 'Miss Gerts' of Mississippi, and Georgia, and Tennessee, and Texas, and California. You're 'Miss Gerts' because you see the potential that so often that our people do not see in themselves. You see beyond the moment to the possibility of what can be."
"Being the 'Miss Gerts' of America means we have to see beyond the difficulty to the opportunity, and we have to do the work," she said.
Abrams spoke generally about her campaign without mentioning Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, her Republican rival for the governor's mansion.
The contest between Abrams and Kemp is a marquee battle of the political bases and is shaping into one of the most-watched races in the country, with the candidates offering sharp contrasts between liberal and conservative agendas on issues from immigration to abortion to gun control and health care.