WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A campaign video showing Republican presidential front-runner Herman Cain’s chief of staff blowing smoke from a cigarette at the camera drew heavy play on the Internet on Tuesday.
The video, which logged more than 100,000 views on Cain’s YouTube website, kept up the former pizza executive’s unpredictable playbook in a campaign for the presidential nomination that has soared in the last month.
In the video, his chief of staff Mark Block makes generic statements touting Cain’s candidacy and then sucks on a cigarette and blows a little smoke into the camera.
“We’ve run a campaign like nobody’s ever seen, but then America’s never seen a candidate like Herman Cain,” Block says.
As he inhales, a female vocalist sings: “I am America.”
Cain, a former lobbyist, conservative radio talk show host and Baptist preacher who has never held public office, has jumped to the top of polls among Republican candidates vying for the nomination to try to unseat President Barack Obama, a Democrat, next year.
Supporters bill him as a blunt-speaking political outsider and alternative to fellow Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
“It got watched, so it worked,” said Mark McKinnon, a former communications strategist for George W. Bush, said of the Cain video. “The message: We are different and don’t play by the rules,” he said.
The video, which was posted days ago but gained Internet traction on Tuesday, was called “bizarre” and “strange” in some media reports. It also features a serious-looking Cain breaking into a grin in the last 10 seconds.
Cain, who is scrambling to assemble a team with just 10 weeks before the first crucial nominating contests in January, has said he would bring a sense of humor to the White House if elected president in 2012.
However, one former Cain activist in Iowa, who declined to be named, said: “Maybe he hasn’t noticed, but smoking isn’t the in vogue thing to do these days.”
Block, who joined the campaign in January, stood by the advertisement, which he said was straightforward.
“You walk into a veterans’ bar in Iowa and they’re sitting around smoking, and yeah, we are resonating with them. I‘m not the only one that smokes in America, for God’s sake. It’s a choice that I made, and was at the end of the ad,” Block told Fox News.
Reporting by Eric Johnson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Bohan