Herman Cain’s Blockhead


Although he’s suddenly the most talked-about man in politics — at least for a day — Mark Block was quick to return a reporter’s request for comment.

“I’m standing outside smoking a cigarette. What else was I supposed to do?” he quips between puffs.


Block is Herman Cain’s chief operating officer and chief of staff — equivalent to campaign manager on other campaigns — and in a web video released Monday night, addressed Cain’s supporters. “Tomorrow is one day closer to the White House … We’ve run a campaign like nobody’s ever seen, but then America’s never seen a candidate like Herman Cain,” Block said, looking straight into the camera. “We need you to get involved.” And then, without breaking his gaze, he takes a drag off a cigarette, transforming an ordinary video into a viral sensation.

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That wasn’t the intent, Block says. There’s been feverish speculation about the video’s goals, including the idea that it might be a dog whistle to smokers and the tobacco industry, with whom Cain aligned himself as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

Not so, Block insists. It was intended to be just like the web videos that David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, made for backers.


Though he’s been mostly behind the scenes as Cain has shot up in GOP presidential polls, Block shares both a facial-hair decision and a long history with the former pizza magnate. He is one of Cain’s longest-serving allies and — as Cain recounts in his book This Is Herman Cain! — has on at least one occasion been forced to stand in for his boss on the stump, no mean feat given Cain’s legendary speaking skills. They met about six years ago. Block was Wisconsin state director for the fledging Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group funded by the Koch brothers. As AFP sought to expand into other Great Lakes states, it sent Block and Cain out on tour, and the two men bonded during long car trips.

“As we traveled, we talked about him running for president,” Block recalls. “It’s almost a blessing that he got cancer [in 2006], because he came off the campaign trail. In the meantime, AFP grew to 32 states, so instead of having contacts in just four states, we had built these ties into what became known as the Tea Party movement.”

Managing Cain’s improbable rise is the latest chapter in a long political life. Although he spent more than a decade working in the private sector, Block’s career in politics began when he was still in his teens. Like Cain, his father was a blue-collar voter with Democratic leanings, but unlike Cain — whose conservatism emerged in the mid-1990s — Block always identified with the right and confesses that he was “that geeky guy that was the freshman-, sophomore-, junior-, senior-class president.” In 1974, shortly after the voting age dropped from 21 to 18, he was elected to the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors—the first 18-year-old elected in the state, he says.

That career hit a bump in 1997, when Block was busted by the state board of elections. He was managing state Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox’s campaign and was accused of violating laws against coordinating with outside groups. Block ended up settling with the board, agreeing to pay $15,000 and stay out of politics for three years but avoiding an admission of guilt.


It’s been a tough week for Cain: he’s been hammered over the details of his 9-9-9 plan, waffled repeatedly on abortion, and showed holes in his foreign-policy bona fides. Time‘s Mark Benjamin found that Republicans in early-primary states either said that Cain didn’t have an organization in those states or else didn’t know who was involved—a bad sign so close to the first contest.


Despite Cain’s battering over the last week, a poll released Tuesday found Cain leading Mitt Romney by 4 points nationwide. It remains unclear whether Cain will be able to continue defying gravity and for how long, but if nothing else, Block’s YouTube stardom has provided a distraction from those troubles. A distraction — if not, perhaps, a breath of fresh air, exactly.


(Video at MSNBC link)


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25 responses to “Herman Cain’s Blockhead

  1. Snoring Dog Studio

    No, he won’t be able to sustain it, because his grasp on foreign policy is finally coming into question. He’s avoided answering questions about it thinking we’re all so flummoxed by 9-9-9 that we’d stop remembering that the U.S. is part of a larger thing called, THE WORLD. You can run, but you can’t hide, Herman, not even behind the cigarette smoke. Cain would be demolished in any discussion of foreign policy.

    • the question is, will it matter to the teabaggers and the religious fanatics who tend to vote in primaries? we must be the laughingstock of the world. imagine a clown like herb being #1 in the polls.

  2. Sure national polls are interesting, but in presidential politics, it’s the state polls that matter. In terms of the early states at this point, Cain is within the margin of error, thus tied with Romney in one state. If nothing else, he has been able to create a buzz with much less money than the others. Nonetheless, he has zero chance of getting my vote. Oh my … just noticed the brand. Very good!

    • i borrowed from an old poster. i found this ad, and i immediately fell in love with it. i remembered that i had used a chesterfield poster before (scroll down). that poster didn’t get a lot of attention, and that made me sad, because i really liked it, so i was very happy to be able to use it again.

      national polls might not matter too much as far as who will win individual primaries and caucuses, but they do serve to paint the party in a certain way and set up the eventual nominee. he’ll have to either apologize for or defend the nuttiness. in the meantime, they’re forcing mittsie to the right and to make some really stupid remarks that will come back to bite him later on. the rethugs are practically writing the dems’ campaign ads for them.

  3. jay

    You did a great job with great material… 😀

  4. John Erickson

    The GOP primary season has been like visiting a stellar nursery. One by one, the little bundles of gas coalesce into a character, ignite, burn brightly for a bit, then flare out of existence. It’d be futuristic fun, if it wasn’t our very own future headed towards black hole status.
    (This concludes this edition of Astronomy And A-Holes.) 😀

  5. “As AFP sought to expand into other Great Lakes states, it sent Block and Cain out on tour, and the two men bonded during long car trips.”

    That’s what she said. Sorry, I’m terrible. I don’t suppose it bothered half the country that Gee Dubya joked about being a dictator and was a complete moron, so it won’t bother them that Herman Cain is also itching to the use the Constitution as toilet paper and has approximately the same grasp on foreign policy as my black lab (Food? Food? Pizza?!). *sigh*

    • i’m terrible, too, mad one, because that’s what i thought of, too. after all, how many porn movies begin with the pizza delivery guy (i have to ask, because i don’t know 😉 )?

  6. It is amazing how one butt gets everybody buzzing about this and that, endless comments and criticism. Yet back in April 2010 when the price of tobacco doubled, it got zero press coverage. Nothing to see (or smoke) here, keep moving. The antiRomney actually speaks to pufferman? He must not have gotten the memo. That button is disturbing. I fear he might “negrolip” that smoke. That was social suicide with my Jr. High crowd.

    • Snoring Dog Studio

      I disagree, Tex. It got plenty of press coverage – but the TPs weren’t around then, so it got less than it might have. It really is disgusting how many politicians are on the dole of the tobacco industry, at the same time they talk on and on about concern for “the children.”

    • it wasn’t just the ciggie. it was the totality of weirdness of which the ciggie was part. that said, i still think it was a nod to big tobacco. was that herb’s hint that he’d once again allow tobacco ads on tv?

      • Snoring Dog Studio

        Herb Cain would try to roll back the Clean Indoor Air laws of every state. Yeah, we’d see smoking ads everywhere again. He’d drop the tax on cigs and then we’d see skyrocketing smoking rates again. He’s a menace on all fronts.

        • he wants people to be able to smoke in restaurants. he only sees things through his own prism. he’s totally incapable of seeing the big picture or even seeing things from someone else’s point of view.

  7. A couple of days ago, this ad played on Morning Joe. Joe, Mika, Heilman, and the rest all laughed at it. Joe asked, “What was *that*?” Mika replied, “Saturday Night Live.”

  8. Kudos, N!

    Upon viewing all I could say was, “Rochester!”

    Except, of course, that Rochester was a class act.

    Love ya,

    • hey stranger! long time, no see. i hope you’ll forgive me, but i changed the name you used. you accidentally used your email addy, and i didn’t think you’d want that publicized. in fact, i was stumped at first as to who you were. 😆 in any case, i’m happy to see you. 🙂

      ♥ you, too!

  9. Love the brand name of the cigs. Haha