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Kasim Reed’s Stock Rises as Georgia’s Demographics Shift

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – At some point in the next few years, national Democrats will be searching for a candidate to run for statewide office in Georgia.

Among the names at the top of their recruitment list is first-term Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Reed is a pugnacious partisan on the national stage, often appearing on “Meet the Press” as a fierce Obama surrogate. One recent Sunday, he railed against the GOP vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, and aggressively took on Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz.

But back at home, he is held in high esteem by Republicans from the governor’s mansion to the statehouse as a man who can work with them to get things done.

They see him as someone who is willing to put partisanship aside to solve big problems such as ballooning pensions or work to get important projects moving, such as expanding the Port of Savannah. And even in their partisan eyes, that makes him a rising star.

“He’s seen as one of the few legitimate Democratic candidates for higher office in Georgia,” said influential Peach State Republican strategist Joel McElhannon.

“He’ll be a formidable adversary,” McElhannon said. “But, for now, he is a good friend.”

Reed has a lot of friends here in Charlotte, too. Leaning against a wall in a conference room one morning this week before a panel discussion, California Attorney General Kamala Harris greeted him with a huge smile and a hug.

The mayor, who is favored to win re-election in 2013, has a languid southern charm about him. Even when he gets animated – and he can get very animated talking about the future of the Democratic Party – there’s still a paced deliberativeness in his words.

On the panel, Reed talks about national politics. He makes the case that Democrats have better ideas when it comes to governing, but are scared of the tough fight.

“I happen to believe that Republicans, verifiably, do a terrible job at governing,” he said. “But when they come to fight, they have every knife, gun, nuclear weapon and all of the rest!”

In TV appearances, Reed brings the knife. But Republicans said that doesn’t mean he can’t cut a deal back at home. Before he was mayor, Reed was a legislator in the state House and state Senate. That shaped him.

“I’ve never viewed Republicans as martians,” he said in an interview. “I just don’t come to the table with that kind of baggage.”

Mayors were in vogue this week at the Democratic convention, with a many addressing the crowd, including one as the keynote speaker. They’re the kind of results-oriented politicians with whom even cynical voters can still relate.

That mayor typology worked so well in fact, that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) earlier this cycle told his House candidates to run like mayors.

And in Reed, one can see why.

“The future of politics is performance,” he said. “No Democrat and no Republican is going to be able to survive in the future who does not deliver. People’s willingness to tolerate ineffective government is getting shorter and shorter.

“You just don’t have the time anymore not to deliver,” he said.

Reed said all his TV appearances and surrogacy, and the national media attention help him deliver.

He has been name-checked in a Thomas Friedman column and book. The mayor was recently featured on the glossy London-based magazine Monocle’s list of “10 smart governors,” along with the mayors of Tel Aviv and Kabul. And then there are the frequent “Meet the Press” appearances.

“My national profile helps me have my phone calls returned when I am advocating on behalf of the city of Atlanta,” Reed said.

Like every politician, Reed said he’s focused on his job and his re-election. But having a national profile doesn’t hurt if you’re eying higher office down the line.

An African-American Democrat having a clear shot at statewide office in Georgia would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. But a few years from now, no one will blink an eye. Demographic shifts in the state, with increasing numbers of African-Americans and Latinos who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, are moving Georgia slowly but ineluctably toward a tossup state.

“The trend is an undeniable trend. It just depends on what year and what cycle,” Reed said.

Not long after President Bill Clinton gave a bear hug to President Barack Obama Wednesday night and they clasped hands on stage, the convention called the roll to officially renominate the president as the Democratic nominee.

Reed, a Georgia delegate, was standing shoulder to shoulder with Reps. John Lewis, Hank Johnson and David Scott as the ceremony unfolded.

At the microphone, the state party chairman gave Reed a shoutout.

After the votes were cast for Obama, a cheer went up from the delegation. Photographers snapped a few shots of Reed standing with Lewis, a civil rights icon.

Thousands of people jostled back and forth in the arena as the roll call vote moved on to Hawaii.

Lewis began to move toward the exit and Reed, beaming, stood there in the midst of it all for a moment.

He had the look of a man in exactly the right place at the right time, but who could go just about anywhere.