The Herman Cain campaign is on the record: That bizarre campaign ad featuring Chief of Staff Mark Block smoking a cigarette is no joke. It’s what the campaign intended to release to the Web to promote the candidate, although it’s also noteworthy that the ad now appears neither on the candidate’s website nor on his YouTube page.
In the video ad, Block is featured in a series of close-ups praising his boss, the pizza executive cum presidential candidate, and also pitching for donations to his campaign for the Republican nomination. “We’ve run a campaign like no one has ever seen,” Block says in the ad, and then backs up the point by taking a drag on a cigarette and blowing the smoke into the camera. The video then fades to a still photo of Cain against a sound background of a female vocalist singing, “I Am America.”
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In an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday, Block responded to questions about the ad after it exploded on Twitter and YouTube. “There was no subliminal message,” Block said. “In fact, I personally would encourage people not to smoke. It’s just that I’m a smoker. A lot of the people on the staff said ‘Just let Block be Block.’ That’s what it was all about.”
The target audience for the ad is apparently people sitting in bars smoking. Block said, “I tell you, you walk into a veteran’s bar in Iowa and they’re sitting around smoking and you know we are resonating with them. I’m not the only one that smokes in America for God’s sake. It was a choice I made and it was at the end of the ad. The real message that we’re trying to get through was the Cain train is on a roll.”
Campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon answered multiple media inquiries about the ad Tuesday by saying, “I’ve received quite a bit of positive feedback. Most folks I heard from said it was hysterical.” Reporters covering the campaign at first thought the spot was put on the Web by an anti-Cain scam artist.
Unhappily for Cain, the ad is a reminder that he once staunchly opposed smoking bans in his earlier role the head of the National Restaurant Association. The New York Times reported in a recent story, “Under Mr. Cain's leadership, the restaurant association opposed higher taxes on cigarettes and the use of federal money to prosecute cigarette makers for fraud. ... Cain argued vociferously that the decision about whether to go smoke-free was the province of individual restaurant owners, not the government.”