By conventional political standards, Monday should have been a very bad day for Herman Cain’s upstart presidential campaign. Facing allegations of sexual harassment, the candidate and his ragtag campaign staff should have hunkered down while pundits trumpeted the collapse of his wild card White House bid.Instead, Cain burst into song — and confirmed what everyone on the Cain Train has known for some time: Herman Cain is running a presidential campaign unlike anything this country has seen before.
A former pizza magnate with no political experience, Cain has thrown the traditional playbook out the window. He has minimal institutional support and a bare-bones campaign organisation that includes just seven paid staffers in Iowa and New Hampshire combined. He has no pollster and no plans to hire one. And he spent most of October on bus tours through states like Alabama and Tennessee, which are basically irrelevant to winning the Republican nomination.
Meet the team behind Herman Cain >
Campaign insiders say it is all part of an unorthodox national strategy focused on getting the candidate’s name and message out, rather than on the early-state retail politics and endorsement jockeying typical of primary campaigns. Strangely, the plan seems to be working.
We talked to Cain’s New Hampshire field operations director Charlie Spano to find out how Cain has managed to defy conventional wisdom and gain momentum, despite having virtually no formal campaign organisation in the state.
A Pennsylvania-based political activist, Spano himself is evidence of Cain’s unconventional campaign organisation; it is his first time organising for a candidate in New Hampshire, whose close-knit political community takes its first-in-the-nation primary incredibly seriously and is known to reject presidential candidates that don’t do the same.
Surprisingly, that hasn’t stopped him from deploying an effective grassroots strategy across the state, Spano said, based on identifying potential Cain “sympathizers” who in turn disseminate the candidate’s message through their own social networks.
Cain is simply the “leader” of a broader “economic revival,” he said, using almost religious terms to explain how Cain is still managing to garner support in New Hampshire in spite of his lack of spending and infrequent visits to the state.
“Herman Cain’s message is very clear, it’s very powerful, and it’s very well-known,” Spano explained. “The message trumps money, and that’s what people are responding to … It’s resonating with the voters of New Hampshire.”
Spano’s strategy is being replicated across the country as part of a “50-state plan” to win the Republican nomination, Cain’s communications director J.D. Gordon told Business Insider.
“It’s a grassroots strategy, that’s based on Mr. Cain’s name ID,” Gordon said, pointing out that Cain’s name recognition has skyrocketed to 78% over the past six months. He added that the apparently random campaign stops are “consistent with a macrostrategy” to get Cain’s message out to voters across the country, not just in early primary states.
In short, what has looked to many like a glorified book tour is actually a strategic rollout designed to maximise Cain’s limited resources through national media exposure. Supporters are left to build the campaign organisation on their own, using the Herman Cain Express website as a platform to build and mobilize grassroots networks of like-minded voters.
Gordon admitted that the strategy is untested and unorthodox, but added that it plays to the strengths of Cain’s senior staff — a ragtag group that includes a disgraced Wisconsin GOP operative, a close friend of the Clintons, and an Ohio wealth advisor who is now America’s hottest economic policy expert.
Anchored by veterans of Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded conservative activist group with deep ties to the Tea Party, Cain’s team has virtually zero national campaign experience, but is well-versed in the grassroots organising tactics that have galvanised the GOP’s right-wing, anti-Establishment flank.
In the face of conventional logic, this team of political misfits is now rewriting the rules of campaign politics and sending the national media into a tailspin. And while Cain may not make it past Super Tuesday, his bizarre, postmodern experiment is poised to change the way we think about presidential elections long before then.
Before vaulting into campaign ad history with his absurd smoking video, Block was the largely unseen force behind Cain's upstart presidential bid -- the David Axelrod to Cain's Obama -- and is widely credited with convincing the former Godfather's Pizza CEO to run.
Block is both Cain's chief strategist and campaign manager, but like the candidate, he is an unlikely fit for a presidential bid. A Wisconsin Republican/Tea Party operative, he has virtually no political experience outside of the Badger State. Moreover, Block's career has been marked by scandal -- he was actually banned from working on Wisconsin campaigns after being accused of violating election law in 1997.
He returned 11 years later as the state director for AFP, where he linked up with Cain, who had been tapped to be the public face of AFP's 'Prosperity Expansion Project.' They have been together ever since -- Cain as the charismatic frontman and Block as the unconventional brains behind the operation.
A grassroots Wisconsin activist, Hansen is Block's right-hand woman on the campaign and played a key role in convincing Cain that he could be a legitimate White House contender.
Prior to launching the campaign, Hansen was Block's top aide at the Wisconsin AFP, where he tapped her to run the Wisconsin Prosperity Network, an umbrella group for the state's right-wing think tanks and activists. She is also the founder of AFP's 'Prosperity 101' initiative, a staunchly anti-union worker 'education' program that Cain has called 'a capitalist response to ACORN.'
Hansen is also tapped into the homeschool movement, conservative Christian networks that play a major role in GOP campaign organisations across the Midwest, including in Iowa's first-in-nation caucuses. A Bush campaign county chair in 2004, Hansen represents the cadre of GOP activists across the country who have shifted their allegiances to the Tea Party over the past several years. Along with Block, Hansen has played a key role in deploying Tea Party tactics to reach out to Republicans who are dissatisfied with Establishment candidates.
Brazil, a Scranton-based political consultant, is definitely one of the most surprising members of the Cain campaign. That's because he is close personal friends with -- wait for it -- Bill and Hillary Clinton. A former business partner of Mrs. Clinton's brother Tony Rodham, Brazil is even the godfather of Mrs. Clinton's nephew, Simon Rodham.
A longtime Democratic operative and campaign fundraiser, Brazil switched allegiances in 2008 to run national operations for Citizens for McCain, Joseph Lieberman's 'nonpartisan' campaign group, and now appears to have fully transitioned across the aisle. Before joining the Cain campaign, he worked as a political consultant in Iraq, helping former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi win a majority in parliament in the country's 2010 elections. Allawi hired him at the recommendation of President Clinton, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune.
Brazil has brought along several of his former colleagues, including fellow Scranton son Charlie Spano, the New Hampshire field director. Brazil's deputy from Citizens for McCain, Imri Eisner, also recently joined the Cain campaign as vice president of coalitions and surrogates and Block's chief advisor. Eisner, a New York-based lawyer, is listed as a contact for PUMA, the pro-Hillary PAC behind the Obama 'birther' rumours.*
*Note: Eisner informs us that he was not and has never been affiliated with PUMA, and has never been a so-called 'birther.' He said he was not aware he was listed as a contact on the PUMA PAC website, and has no idea why that's the case.
Naidu has the distinction of being the only campaign staffer, apart from Block and Hansen, to get a mention in Cain's new campaign book, This Is Herman Cain!
Although he does not specify his role on the campaign, Cain has high praise for Naidu, referring to hm as an 'eager, efficient, and well-informed 20-five-year-old graduate of the University of Alabama who majored in political science.' He also writes that Naidu refers to Cain by his future Secret Service name 'Cornbread,' on internal campaign schedules.
Naidu's official title, per Cain's book, indicates that he is the deputy assistant to Block. But reports from the campaign trail indicate that the young aide has a broader role, that is some combination of body man and campaign scheduler, and includes travelling with the candidate to all of his events. It is totally unclear how Naidu, a political unknown, landed this position on the hottest 2012 Republican campaign.
A retired Navy commander and former Pentagon spokesman, Gordon is the campaign's sole media liaison. He's also tasked with helping Cain play catch up on national security issues -- a dual role that is further evidence Cain has completely thrown out the conventional campaign playbook.
Like many of Cain's staffers, Gordon has little campaign experience, making him an unlikely pick to be the voice of the campaign. But in reality, Gordon is a great -- and very creative -- snag for the Cain campaign; over the course of his career, he has extensive contacts with influential political journalists, and has himself contributed to Fox News, the Washington Times, and other right-leaning news outlets.
Gordon was on the verge of launching a Washington think tank, the centre for Security and Diplomacy, before he was asked to join the campaign, and he brought along a few of his former partners to beef up Cain's communications team. Robert Brockhaus, one of the founders of CSD, is now Cain's assistant vice president for communications. CSD's vice president for policy and research Matt Martini is responsible for the candidate's television and radio bookings, and Mark Pfeifle, a Bush administration veteran and former deputy national security advisor, is running the campaign's Rapid Response.
On the policy side, CDS board member Roger Pardo Maurer, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is advising Cain on Middle East policy.
h/t Foreign Policy
After repeatedly refusing to name his economic advisors, Cain finally dropped Lowrie's name during an interview with Fox News last month, sending the Tweetoverse aflutter as people tried to determine the identity of this mysterious man.
As it turns out, Lowrie is not an economist, as Cain has claimed, but a Wells Fargo investment advisor based in Cleveland, Ohio. Another AFP veteran, Lowrie was brought on to the campaign by Block, first as an informal advisor and later as Cain's chief economic policy wonk.
According to an awesome profile in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Lowrie and Cain hatched the campaign's hallmark '9-9-9' tax plan on a flight to New Hampshire this summer, and thus was born the hottest economic sage of the 2012 campaign.
Cain has since disclosed other members of his economic braintrust, including well-known supply-side economist Arthur Laffer, who Lowrie refers to as a 'close friend.' Laffer has not publicly announced his support for the 9-9-9 plan, however, and Lowrie remains Cain's main pointman for his hallmark campaign platform.
A political neophyte just barely out of undergrad, Barrow has the mammoth responsibility of keeping Cain up to speed on the policy issues of the day. Although he is occasionally referred to as Cain's research assistant, his job is actually much more expansive, including daily policy briefings and debate preparation.
Despite his relative youth, Barrow was actually among the first to jump on the Cain Train. According to his LinkedIn profile, he started working with Cain in 2008 as an intern on his Atlanta radio show, and has served Cain in some research capacity ever since.
Barrow is now responsible for coordinating all of Cain's presidential campaign advisors, most of whose identities remain a mystery. The campaign has disclosed that former RNC deputy Manny Rosales is advising Cain on immigration, and that former Marine Joseph Humire, a fellow at the free-market think tank Atlas Economic Research Foundation, is helping out with international economics.
h/t Foreign Policy
Harmon, a veteran campaign consultant, adds a little bit of Washington muscle to Cain's otherwise outside-the-Beltway senior staff. He even has presidential campaign experience, having served as the direct mail specialist for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. A former Tim Pawlenty backer, Harmon's shift to the Cain camp is evidence that the campaign is starting to think about using more traditional voter outreach strategies as fundraising picks up. Spano confirmed to Business Insider that the national campaign team has started to talk about launching phone and direct mail operations in early primary states.
Harmon has a lengthy campaign resume, including stints as campaign manager for Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich and U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. He is perhaps best known for orchestrating Chambliss's 2002 upset victory against Democratic incumbent Max Cleland, a disabled Vietnam veteran, with an attack ad that used images of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein to question Cleland's commitment to national security.
Now that he is a top-tier candidate, Cain has ramped up his fundraising and acquired a SuperPAC to accept unlimited donations to support his campaign.
The organisation was launched in mid-October to capitalise on Cain's surge to the top of the 2012 Republican field. But it got off to a bit of a rocky start, when the Federal Election Commission informed its founders that it's name, Americans For Herman Cain, was illegal (SuperPACs are technically independent, so their names can't refer to any particular candidate). The executives have since officially changed the name to 'The 9-9-9 Fund,' but still refer to the organisation by its original name.
Gehrke, a veteran political consultant with deep Tea Party ties, is responsible for the effort. Gehrke is best known for orchestrating Sharron Angle's upstart bid for Nevada Senate in 2010.
Given Cain's grassroots campaign strategy -- and Gehrke's relative inexperience with big-money donors -- it is unclear how a SuperPAC will benefit a candidate who is relying primarily on small donors. But according to the NYT, Gehrke insists they are attracting donors looking to dig deep for the Tea Party cause.
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