Michael Nutter is having a moment.

We are walking down 15th Street in Center City, and the man who would be mayor - the guy with the Muppet voice and overactive brain - has, at my request, morphed into "Mixmaster Mike" from his DJ days at the Impulse disco in North Philadelphia.

Now what you hear is not a test, I'm rappin' to the beat

And me, the groove, and my friends are gonna try to move your feet

See, I am Wonder Mike, and I like to say hello

To the black, to the white, the red, and the brown, the purple and yellow.

This you've got to put in a commercial, I tell the former city councilman as he ably performs "Rapper's Delight," the 1979 hit by Sugarhill Gang.

There goes your charisma problem, I say. (Nutter rolls his eyes.)

"There goes the election," he says, his humor as parched as ever.

I'm serious, but so is Nutter. Nine days before the May 15 primary, the guy everyone counted out is in.

He has just pocketed six major media endorsements. The Northeast Times even gushed that Nutter has "no tangible negatives."

Polls have shown Nutter standing shoulder to shoulder with Tom Knox, the self-financed millionaire candidate outspending everyone in town.

Last week, Gov. Rendell dubbed Nutter a "true visionary," albeit a difficult one. Meanwhile, union boss John Dougherty is disgusted by all the love "Mr. Good Government" is getting.

Nutter knows he has a lighter side, but now is not the time to unleash his rhymes. If he's having a moment, it's a moment by design.

The war at home

At a cocktail party for Women's Way last week, Anne Myers finally met the man who inspired her, without asking, to part with $1,000 of her retirement money. She has lived in Center City since 1959 and thinks Nutter is the reincarnation of Joe Clark and Richardson Dilworth.

"He's so smart. He has such dignity," the 72-year-old accountant tells me later. "Usually I'm bored to death with whoever's running for mayor."

This year, Nutter's command of zoning and planning issues excites her.

In a race filled with generalities - everyone wants more cops, less violence, better schools - Nutter gets props for being precise.

He's the only candidate to produce a budget for his campaign promises.

And if cops on his watch stop-and-frisk anyone, as he proposes, it will be in the neighborhoods where death is a worse threat to the way of life.

"I have a civil right not to be shot," Nutter says, his voice rising as we drive down Broad Street.

"The weekend before last, 11 people were killed in Philadelphia, versus eight [Americans] in Iraq. And we're not in a crime emergency?"

Nutter knows that 71 percent of the victims and 81 percent of the killers have criminal records. Others may say good riddance, but he's outraged.

"They're real people," he fumes. "Whether they're stellar citizens or drug dealers, they're real people being killed in this city every day."

Mr. Personality

Everywhere he goes, people stop Nutter to tell him they adore his daughter, Olivia. Her starring role in a TV ad for dad has done as much as anything to rev up the campaign.

"The camera doesn't love him. He's a little stiff," explains Adrienne Walls, a West Philadelphia nonprofit consultant, after raving about Olivia to Nutter at the Women's Way event.

"To have his baby, who looks so much like him, connect with voters . . . that commercial was just brilliant."

So when Nutter gets impatient when one of the members of the Oak Lane Concerned Citizens Association is confused about civil-service rules, everyone will remember that the know-it-all takes his daughter to school?

"The ad," he admits back in the car, "has had an impact beyond anything we ever imagined."

Black voters see "a guy who takes care of his kids." Parents see a candidate who cares about public schools because his daughter attends one.

But will a 'tween dream and all those policy papers be enough to carry Nutter through Election Day?

Again, I plead with "Mixmaster Mike" to make some mayoral noise.

"No chance," he says, grinning. Maybe after he wins.