We first became aware of Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain's chief of staff Mark Block as he emceed the Tax Day Tea Party rally on the Capitol Square in 2009. Clearly enamored of Madison talk radio host Vicki McKenna, Block, who was then the Wisconsin director of Americans For Prosperity, liked to introduce her as "the rock star of radio," perhaps forgetting that actual rock stars, not just political yodelers, can still be heard on the radio.
We then ran into Block at Scott Walker's inaugural ball in January and he was nice enough to answer some questions for us on video (find him at the 9:40 mark). It was during this conversation when we first heard Herman Cain's name.
This week, Block's face has been everywhere. He's the guy who ends an unconventional online campaign commercial for Cain by taking a pull off his cigarette and discharging the smoke directly into the lens. According to Block himself, the ad portrays "Block being Block." It appears to have taken no more than a few takes, maybe 15 minutes of editing and a quick upload to YouTube. A few days later, the spot has been seen over and over on every major cable news show and most of the late-night talk shows as well, all without a dollar being spent by the Cain campaign.
And based on a Wednesday story in the New York Times that portrays the campaign as "chaotic," Block and Cain needs all the free publicity they can get.
Interviews with Mr. Cain's former staff members, volunteers and supporters give a glimpse of a candidate who appeared to show ambivalence toward basic campaign management, which led to problems in hiring, scheduling, fund-raising and messaging.
The ad, seemingly a parody itself, has been widely spoofed.