The man who talked Herman Cain into running for president, and plotted a strategy that has the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO surging in the GOP presidential race, knows both highs and lows.
Mark Block was the first 18-year-old ever elected to office in Wisconsin when he was voted onto the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors in 1974.
Yet he was also banned from politics in Wisconsin for three years and forced to pay a $15,000 fine after being accused by the Wisconsin State Elections Board of violating election law in 1997 as campaign manager to state Supreme Court Justice Jon P. Wilcox.
The Wilcox campaign was accused of illegally coordinating activities with an outside group which mounted a get-out-the-vote effort. To this day, Block denies any wrongdoing.
“Politics at times is ugly,” Block, who worked as an official at Americans for Prosperity before becoming Cain’s chief of staff and campaign manager this year, explained during an interview with The Daily Caller.
He claims the state’s attorney general only went after him because it was “decided it would be a good thing not to have Mark Block involved in the next election cycle.”
Block settled with the Wisconsin State Elections Board without admitting guilt. Broke and unable to work in politics under the settlement, he stocked shelves at Target.
His political rehabilitation includes meeting Herman Cain several years later, when Block was working as the head of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity.
“Mark was asked to launch branches in Michigan and Ohio,” Cain recalls in his book that comes out this week, “and I was asked to help him … we ended up spending a lot of time together, much of it in a car, traveling from meeting to meeting.”
Mapping a campaign strategy
After getting to know Cain well, Block flew to Las Vegas to have dinner with him in March 2010, where he laid out a strategy with aide Linda Hansen for how Cain could become a viable GOP presidential candidate if he ran.
“When we’re having a really good day, it was his idea,” Block said with a laugh. “When we’re having really bad days, he says, ‘Block, you’re the jerk who talked me into this.’”
Cain writes in his book that Block had actually discussed the presidency with him in 2006. Block said in the interview that people kept pleading with Cain to run for president back then after hearing him speak at Americans for Prosperity events.
“But then my cancer was diagnosed and everything went on hold as I underwent treatment,” Cain wrote. “Now, four years later, in March 2010, I was cancer free and the time seemed right to revisit the possibility of seeking the presidential nomination.”
The surging campaign
Block says the campaign has exceeded his own expectations: Cain pulled off a surprise victory in the Florida Straw Poll on Sept. 24, prompting a much-needed infusion of money from donors. Some polls now show Cain in the top tier of candidates.
“We’re farther ahead right now than where we planned to be,” Block said. “Starting in January with the announcement of the exploratory committee, we had wanted steady, week-by-week increases.”
Block told TheDC the Cain campaign has “strategies in place to continue that momentum,” including “rolling out more bold policy initiatives.”
“Some of the things you’re going to see in October are going to be as bold as 9-9-9,” Block said, referencing Cain’s catchy slogan for his tax reform proposal.
Cain himself named the plan, which Block said is “marketing genius.”
“If you walked through airports with him right now,” Block said, “or if you’re doing events or walked through restaurants, people say ‘you’re that 9-9-9 guy.’ It use to be ‘hey, you’re the pizza guy.’ He’s not the pizza guy anymore, he’s the 9-9-9 guy.”
The strategy to keep the momentum going, he said, also includes hiring more staff — the campaign has suffered a series of departures, most recently spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael — and putting resources in additional states. Block acknowledged that some people are skeptical about the campaign’s plan to visit places like North Dakota, or other states that don’t hold early primaries, but he argues it’s part of a “strategic delegate-count strategy.”
“Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina are very important,” Block said. “But so is Florida, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee.”
Cain writes in his book that Block, whose Atlanta office wall is said to be covered with photos and mementos from his previous jobs, has a “talent for thinking out of the box.”
“In my case,” Cain writes, “thinking way out of that box. And that’s one of the reasons we have a great relationship.”