For what seems like a couple of years now (though maybe just a year?), Herman Cain’s terrific communications director Ellen Carmichael has been my primary contact for his campaign. With Cain winning the Florida Straw Poll in convincing fashion, I thought it would be a good time to ask about her life and her experiences on the trail. Here goes:
1. Tell us about your background. Where are you from?
I grew up in the same house for my entire life in Baton Rouge, La. I attended an all-girls Catholic high school, St. Joseph’s Academy, and then graduated from LSU with a degree in Mass Communication: Political Communication.
I also did a summer internship at Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, D.C. and got into some consulting of my own for some Washington, D.C.-based political organizations and candidates up to the federal level.
2. Your boss got off to a great start. How important was that first debate?
That debate in May changed everything for us. It was the first time a significant national audience heard Herman Cain.
I have been working for Mr. Cain for more than a year now, dating back to working for his company, T.H.E. New Voice. I remember when I used to call a few reporters and try to set up interviews early on. They would say, “No thanks, we’re not interested.” I couldn’t believe it. Now, I get more than 100 media requests a day. I receive more than 20 voicemails an hour.
3. Herman seems to be in the midst of a revival right now. What did he or the campaign do to shake things up?
I don’t know that I’d call it a revival. It’s more of the awakening of the media. He consistently has the highest favorability of all the candidates, nearly 20 weeks running, but his name ID has hovered around 50 percent. I always say that when people know Herman Cain, they like Herman Cain. And it’s true.
4. He is likeable. But Herman also came under fire this spring and summer for some comments he made about Muslims. The campaign, however, seemed to begin turning around after he visited a Mosque. Who’s idea was that?
During that time, we were still picking up supporters everywhere. But it was his own idea to visit the mosque. While he’s still adamantly opposed to shariah law, he found it to be a very moving experience and the whole event was completely in earnest.
5. Are there any personal behind-the-scenes stories about him that you could share with us?
One evening in the office, I was waiting for an answer on something that was taking a long time. My mother says I have an expressive face, and she’s probably right, as my annoyance was probably conveyed pretty clearly. He looked at me and said, “I see Miss Sunshine showed up to work today,” grinning from ear to ear. Suddenly, any twinge of impatience faded away and I couldn’t help but smile. Herman Cain is good like that. He just makes you happy.
6. Herman is probably nicer than the press, whom you also have to deal with. Which reporters are your favorites to work with, and why?
You probably were expecting me to give you a coy answer or something Miss America-y about how I like working with everyone. Well, I do. There have been very few bad interactions with the press, which has actually surprised me. I do have some favorites though. Joshua Green, formerly of the Atlantic Monthly and now with Bloomberg, is the best writer I think I’ve encountered in my career. His personality and wit shine in his work, which I absolutely love. He’s been one of my favorite folks to get to know in this campaign. The same goes for Bob Costa of the National Review. Bob is one of the most thoughtful writers out there, and it shows. Alex Pappas over at The DC is great, too. He’s got this excitement for a scoop that’s contagious. I’ve also enjoyed working with Evan McMorris-Santoro, Michael Falcone and Shannon Travis while on this campaign. All three reporters have an understanding of the necessity of integrity in news.
7. What advice would you give someone who wants to do press on a presidential campaign?
Do not ever lose who you are, even when you’re in service to someone else. The wonderful thing about Herman Cain is that because he is who he is, we get to be who we are. In my job, it’s about promoting Mr. Cain is often as possible and in as many places as possible. But I’ve gotten to maintain my personality and my values.
8. Who invented the 9-9-9 idea?
9. You told me a while ago about some problems you were having in your Atlanta apartment. Any improvements?
My apartment in Atlanta is a nice place — well, the unit itself is. However, my fellow tenants have chosen to make their living experience based on the MTV television show, “Cribs.” I often walk outside to see a strip club van parked next to my car or folks blaring the latest jam at the pool. It’s not really a great environment for someone working a job like mine, but hopefully when it’s cooler out, they’ll take their parties inside.
10. What’s next for you?
Continuing to work tirelessly to get Mr. Cain to the White House. Also, a trip to DC this week, which means I get to see many old friends that I love dearly while I work up there. I look forward to those days more than anything.
Bonus question: Anything else you want to talk about/tell us about?
Herman Cain is a man of both principles and ideas. And he’s given me the chance to live my dream. For that, I will be eternally in his debt. I really can’t believe this is my life.