20 People to Watch - Tharon Johnson: The Campaign Manager

Mayor Reed’s campaign manager tries his hand at Obama 2012

If opinion polls are to be believed, then Tharon Johnson has his work cut out for him. As Barack Obama’s Southern Regional Director, the Atlanta-native and Clark Atlanta University graduate will oversee campaign activities in 11 states — Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas — only two of which, by some twist of fate, turned blue in ‘08. Had he been permitted to speak with us by higher-ups in the campaign — he wasn’t, at least not on the record — Johnson would likely say he’s up for the job.

At 33, Johnson already has an impressive political pedigree. Tall, handsome, and pretty much instantly likable, Johnson got his start as a campaign manager working with Alisha Thomas Morgan (when she was just Alisha Thomas) during her 2000 bid for the Georgia House of Representatives. Morgan won, becoming the first African-American to represent Cobb County in the Georgia House. Johnson then deputy-managed Congressman John Barrow’s 2004 campaign and managed Rep. John Lewis’ 2008 campaign. (Keep in mind, it was the first time since 1992 the elder statesman actually had a campaign.)

Johnson finally got national recognition for his management of Kasim Reed’s 2009 mayoral campaign. Despite his initial reluctance to leave Lewis’ camp, Johnson led Reed to victory — albeit, a narrow victory — and was named Campaign Manager of the Year by the American Association of Political Consultants. He was the youngest person to ever receive the award and the first African-American. The previous year, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe won the award.

The Obama job required that Johnson relocate to Chicago in August, but over the next several months, he’ll likely spend a lot of time back down South — hopping from one politically inclement red state to another.