Strategists for 2012 contenders battle with focus on Cain

In a rare gathering of top campaign advisers, strategists for eight of the Republican 2012 contenders shared a stage Tuesday to assess the state of the GOP primary. But it was Herman Cain Chief of Staff Mark Block who found himself squarely in the spotlight’s bright glare.     

With the Cain campaign in the midst of its worst news cycle yet, Block was tight-lipped at the morning forum hosted by National Journal. He declared a story over sexual harassment allegations lobbed at Cain during his tenure at the National Restaurant Association “done,” and claimed that Monday saw one of the campaign’s best fundraising showings to date, raising some $250,000 online.

"If we have to spend every hour of every day responding to these ridiculous accusations, it will take us off our message and our campaign,” Block said.

Block was also repeatedly pressed to respond to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that said a nonprofit group, which Block co-founded, may have improperly donated some $40,000 worth of services to Cain’s campaign. Block said the campaign “has retained independent counsel” to look into the report.    

While Block was just trying to ride out the storm on stage Tuesday, it was Rick Santorum adviser John Brabender who was the aggressor. Much like his candidate has in the early debates, Brabender wasn’t shy about going after Block and Romney strategist Vin Weber.

Brabender urged the Cain campaign to come forward with additional details on the sexual harassment allegations that surfaced in a Politico report over the weekend, expressing concern that Republicans could end up with a nominee not properly vetted if Cain doesn’t respond to the allegations with more specifics.       

“The problem is the answers changed during the day [on Monday],” Brabender said of Cain’s response to the report.  

Brabender also turned the conversation to inconsistencies in the issue positions of Cain and Romney, particularly on social issues. And he and others on the stage largely dismissed the early state polling that suggests Mitt Romney is the clear frontrunner.

“I was with the Giuliani campaign last time,” said Brabender. “Early polls—trust me—aren’t that important.”

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