PLAINS, GA. -- It is spring here. The trees are still bare, but the red earth has been turned for planting and the daffodils are up in the yard of the Plains Baptist Church, where 12 years ago reporters covering the presidential campaign were listening to Sunday School lessons taught by that new and different contender, Jimmy Carter.

It was an exciting spring that year for Billie J. Cosby. As a member of "the Peanut Brigade" of Carter's friends and neighbors, she went to Jacksonville, Akron, Dundalk, Md., and even to the chilly place she calls "Ray-Seen," Wis., to spread the word about "Jimmy."

"Lord, how we worked," she recalled Monday, passing the time at the Plains Pharmacy. "We walked miles. This year, there's nobody doing that for anybody. My husband's 'bout as active in politics as anybody you'd ever meet, and he doesn't even know who he's going to vote for."

That ennui is pervasive across the South in the week before "Super Tuesday," the voting day next Tuesday that the region's Democratic politicians picked for Dixie to put its indelible stamp on the party's presidential nomination. Radio call-in shows in Macon and Columbus are devoid of political topics and of political ads.

Even here in Plains, the southern community with the closest ties to the White House, presidential politics rates a long way behind the fire that broke out the other day in Bonnie Davis' yard and briefly threatened her house. The rock-'em, sock-'em Republican presidential debate Sunday in Atlanta was a brief story on Page 13 of Monday's 16-page edition of the Americus Times-Recorder. "Cousin Hugh" Carter left Sunday for a vacation in Mexico, and Johnny Parker, looking after his "antiques" store, said, "I'd sure be surprised if he bothered" to cast an absentee ballot. "There just isn't much talk about an election."

David Bozeman, who is "keeping an eye on" the old railroad station that was Jimmy Carter's much-photographed campaign headquarters and has recently been adopted by the National Park Service as a museum, said, "I don't feel like we {Democrats} got anybody runnin' this year."

Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), the south's self-proclaimed favorite son, is a blur. So is Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), who met here with Carter yesterday. "It looks like old times in Plains," Carter told reporters as he received Gephardt.

Lynne Beasley, working the cash register at the drug store, is going over to the Republican side "to vote for {Vice President} Bush or {Sen. Robert J.} Dole against {Pat} Robertson. These Democrats want to spend too much money for my taste. This country is fixing to get in a mess, with all these debts. Anything my husband and I want to do for ourselves, we're going to do it before the next president gets in. After that, I don't want to see what happens."

She has heard talk about Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D) from friends in Americus, nine miles away, "but I sure don't want somebody named Dukakis. He doesn't impress me at all."

All of this helps one, and only one, candidate -- Jesse L. Jackson. "Jesse Jackson's going to take the South," Billie Cosby said with finality. "Not just the black people but some whites, too. He's black, but he's honest. Don't get me wrong. God made us all. I don't think he's going to get there, but he's going to have a lot of support, and that's all right with me."

Down the street, at the M and M Market, an informal community center for Plains' blacks, Johnny Sims, 40, an unemployed carpenter, tells a visiting reporter, "You know who I'm for -- Jesse. He's going to win the South, but he won't win {at the Democratic convention} in Atlanta. They're not ready for a black president . . . not in my lifetime. But he'll help the Democratic Party win, and that's got to be good for me. I mean, these last eight years, I been getting hell from the Republicans. Jobs are so tight, you can get fired for anything."

Jackson's announced white supporters in Plains include Billy Carter, the former president's brother, back home and recuperating from treatment for cancer.

One person who rejoices in Billy's remission and in his endorsement is Lula Britt, who worked for the Carters when Billy was a baby. Saying "My children calculate that three more years, I'll be 100," Britt walked toward the county health center and said Jackson is the one candidate "who knows what I've been through."

But she worries about his candidacy gaining strength. "If I could talk to him, I'd say, 'Don't risk it. The closer you get, the more chance they'll kill you.' Didn't they kill our other one, our King?"

She paused at the lone railroad track and looked into the clear blue sky, feeling the afternoon sun warm her skin. "In God's eye," she said, "black and white, no different. You cut my arm and yours, our blood's the same color. But down here, all these years, all some folks could see was the color of your skin."

Super Tuesday's Jackson vote could change that impression of the South.