From POWERWALL at MSNBC:
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.
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)