Herman Cain's upstart presidential campaign might be based out of Atlanta, but the team guiding him has closer geographical ties to Atlanta, Wis., than the capital of Georgia.
The Cain campaign was reluctant to discuss staff and consultant hires last week, on the eve of Iowa's Ames straw poll. But a review of the Georgia businessman's second-quarter Federal Election Commission report — along with some cooperation from his campaign — has revealed a cadre of senior aides heavy on Wisconsin roots and light on presidential experience. Cain, in a nod to his business background, has given all campaign staff corporate job titles.
Mark Block, the chief of staff and chief operating officer, is the former state director of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group. Through Block, the campaign has hired several Wisconsin-based aides and contracted with multiple Badger State businesses. In addition to Block, at least two other senior staff members hail from Milwaukee. According to Cain's last FEC report, the campaign has done substantial business with more than a half-dozen Wisconsin firms.
The Cain campaign confirmed Block's role, as well as that of others it has already publicized, including Deputy Chief of Staff and Executive Vice President Linda Hansen, Director of Communications Ellen Carmichael, Director of New Media Michael Johnson, Vice President of Political and Field Operations Jamie Brazil and in-house legal counsel Scott Bieniek. The campaign declined to discuss other team members or outside consultants — among them individuals and companies listed on public disclosure reports.
But they are largely unknown political professionals with limited national campaign experience.
"What matters most is winning on Election Day. After that, everyone will know your staff," said one Republican operative with recent presidential and Congressional campaign experience. "But it's generally an advantage to have staff members that are a known quantity. It lends credibility to your campaign and your ability to win."
Hansen and Johnson are both from Milwaukee, Carmichael hails from Baton Rouge, La., and Bieniek is from Indiana. Although the Cain campaign helped confirm information for this story, it declined to be quoted.
Among the more interesting revelations about the campaign's operations is the reliance on Wisconsin firms and aides. Eagle Printing & Graphics Inc., of New Berlin, was paid nearly $11,500 in the second quarter, according to FEC reports. Inkit Printing and Consulting LLC, of Madison, was paid a similar amount. Troupis Law Office LLC, of Middleton, was paid almost $8,000; Jones Sign Co., of De Pere, was paid $4,000, and LSAC Inc., of Mequon, was paid $68,000 for "airfare."
Little Bonanza Productions LLC was paid $136,000 from April to June for "media production." Although the company is based in Southern California just north of downtown Los Angeles, owner Chris Burgard is a Wisconsin native, according to conservative journalist Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood website, where he is listed as a contributor. According to Burgard's biography as published at Big Hollywood, he was born in Mequon and attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
The Cain campaign's hesitancy to discuss staff and consultant signings is unusual, at least in recent history. Most major gubernatorial, Congressional and presidential campaigns brag about their hires, both paid staff and outside consultants, using the news to bolster their candidates' electoral prospects. The Cain campaign could be handling the matter differently because its staff is filled with relative — although not complete — unknowns.
Veteran Republican strategists say inexperience at the presidential level can be detrimental to a campaign's success, although it is not always fatal.
"Is it essential? Not necessarily. But does it make a huge difference? Absolutely," said a Republican consultant who worked on a campaign during the 2008 cycle. "Your worst day on any other type of campaign, be it a Congressional campaign or a statewide campaign, is what a normal to good day is like on a presidential campaign. The stress level, the pace, the scrutiny and, of course, the stakes are all so much greater on a presidential."
The consultant added that when that happens "and you don't have a reservoir of experience to fall back on as to how to handle it all, usually the campaign itself suffers as a result."
Some individuals working for Cain do have presidential experience.
Brazil, according to a campaign press release issued in July, has 30 years of experience and served as national field director for Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) 2008 bid, while assisting "American field operations" during Iraq's most recent presidential election. Aaron Manaigo, who is based in Alexandria, Va., and is listed on Cain's latest FEC report as having been paid for consulting, also worked for McCain in 2008.
One well-connected Washington, D.C.-based GOP strategist said experience matters, both for the quality of political advice it enables an aide to provide to the candidate and for the ability to run a smooth campaign operation day to day. Not all senior staff members need previous experience in the presidential arena, this strategist said, as long as at least a few on the team do.
Another Republican operative, this one with gubernatorial and presidential campaign experience, was more adamant about the need for experience at the top, asking why a candidate such as Cain, who has considerable business success, was willing to settle for a somewhat unorthodox campaign team.
"Cain wouldn't run a business that way. Why run a campaign with amateurs?" this operative said.