Can Cain Campaign Ads Be Taken Seriously?

They're a hit on YouTube, but will Cain's funnies play with the mainstream?

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Nick Searcy, a character actor who has appeared in such television shows as The West Wing and Justified, stands by an ad he did for Herman Cain saying that if you don't get it, then the joke's probably on you.

The campaign ad is set in the old West and attempts to parody the ridiculousness of celebrity endorsements, but its lost message might verge on parodying the campaign itself.

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The video opens with a cowboy played by Searcy riding across the hillside while a caption reads, "There was a time when a man was a man and a horse was a horse."

Searcy's arrival in what appears to be a small town spurs a call-out by the town drunks as to why Searcy is carrying yellow flowers and is followed up by a few poor comedic comebacks.

Searcy then abruptly breaks character and endorses Cain.

[Read about who "Joe the Plumber" would vote for.]

"I've played a lot of tough guys in movies over the years, but you know what? Looking cool and saying lines that somebody else wrote for me doesn't make me a real tough guy any more than looking cool and reading lines off the TelePrompTer that somebody else wrote makes a community organizer a real leader," Searcy says as he sips a martini through a straw.

Searcy says that he agreed to tape the ad back in July "for fun" when he told a friend who worked for the Cain campaign how much he agreed with Cain's message.

"My friend wanted me to do a straight endorsement, but I didn't think that would be a real help to Cain as nobody knows who I am by name anyway," Searcy says.

Searcy suggested instead that the ad be more of a parody, something entertaining and silly. Searcy says there is no symbolic meaning to the ad and that the color of the flowers doesn't represent some allusion to the gold standard.

"It is just fun," Searcy says.

The video, "He Carried Yellow Flowers," went live on YouTube August 25, but just recently garnered attention after another unusual and low-budget campaign ad that featured Cain's campaign manager, Mark Block, smoking a cigarette caught fire. While the ads seem ridiculous, Mark McKinnon, who produced ads for the campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain, told NPR Friday that that unconventionality is the point. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

"That may be the brilliance of it," he says, "that it captures our attention; it makes us really wonder. But at the end of the day, as different, as unconventional, and as weird as they are, there is a fundamental message in them that says, 'I'm different. I've got a different approach.' "

And that approach isn't just in his ads. Cain's campaign strategy as a whole has led many GOP insiders to scratch their heads. While most GOP candidates, including front-runner Mitt Romney, focus on early primary states, Cain's continued to promote a nationwide campaign. He's hired no pollsters and has a virtually unknown staff.

The short might be humorous and popular, with the smoking ad getting nearly a million hits on YouTube, but Cain should be careful to keep his campaign from falling into the category of laughingstock if he wants to be taken seriously not only by the established GOP, but by voters as well.

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