Smokin'! What's up with that Herman Cain aide with the cigarette?

In a Herman Cain Web ad on YouTube, his chief of staff, Mark Block, speaks urgently to the camera before taking a drag on a cigarette. Is there anything to this other than just being provocative?

Youtube screengrab
Herman Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block, speaks urgently to the camera before taking a drag on a cigarette in a new Web ad on YouTube.

Just when we thought the presidential campaign couldn’t get any weirder, along comes a Herman Cain Web ad featuring his chief of staff ... smoking a cigarette.

So retro! So politically incorrect! So... huh? The ad was posted on YouTube several days ago, but went unnoticed by the media until now because it wasn’t listed on Mr. Cain’s YouTube page. Shot mostly in black and white, chief of staff Mark Block speaks in urgent tones about the man still leading in national polls for the Republican presidential nomination.

“We’ve run a campaign like nobody’s ever seen. But then, America’s never seen a candidate like Herman Cain,” says Mr. Block, the camera jump-cutting edgily. “We need you to get involved, because together we can do this, we can take this country back.”

The music swells, Krista Branch’s tea party anthem: “I am America, one voice, united we stand.” Cue the cigarette. Block takes a drag, then lets the smoke drift lazily out of the corner of his mouth. Cut to Cain, whose face breaks into a slow, mischievous grin.

Theories are already circulating about what this ad is supposed to mean. Maybe it’s Cain taking a dig at the no-smoking movement he fought when he ran the National Restaurant Association here in Washington from 1996 to 1999. Maybe this is Cain trying to appeal to the Everyman Block represents: a middle-aged white guy with a mustache and a Wisconsin accent.

But we like New York Magazine’s top theory best: that there’s no ulterior motive whatsoever, and the Cain campaign just threw it out there to get folks talking.

“All of the previous theories assume that the Cain campaign – by which we mean Cain, Block, and, we don’t know, maybe that random accountant in Cleveland that helped Cain craft the 9-9-9 plan? – made conscious, deliberate decisions about the content of the ad,” writes Dan Amira. “But maybe that’s giving them too much credit. Cain hadn't even thought about his position on abortion until a few days ago – how hard could he have thought about the cigarette scene in his web ad? He probably just thought it looked cool.”

Maybe like the “demon sheep” ad that Carly Fiorina ran in her quest for a Senate seat in California last year? She did, after all, win the GOP nomination, though she lost the general.

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