Herman Cain, the GOP rank outsider running for President, was unknown a couple of months ago. He was so unfancied that many didn't expect him to get to the first primary. Having never held public office he hit gold with a controversial video that which showed his Chief of Staff, Mark Block, blowing cigarette smoke into the camera. Cain's rivals cannot understand it. How could this "cheesy and creepy" video grip a nation?

Charlie Mansell, a research and development officer from the Campaign Company, spent time in the USA during the last election in 2008 and worked at the Democrat State HQ in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Smoking Man

"The key thing is surely that one has to watch the whole video to catch that point. If the man didn't smoke, how many people would have watched the video all the way through?" says Mansell. "Bearing in mind the Republican core vote - who count in the primaries - will not be particularly put-off by someone smoking and many also live in tobacco growing areas of the south, it won't impact on his support. The condemnation by those who hold liberal values will more likely strengthen his credibility with that core vote."

In the Know

There is also the feeling the video is more in touch with American's than the dross that the other candidates are filling the airwaves with.

"The video feels a little 'in the know'. Presumably Americans have to go outside the office for a cigarette break so it is where the gossip occurs. This makes it feel more authentic," says Mansell.

"It also has a bit of a cinematic narrative feel to such a simple video. In movies some people still smoke. Often they are the baddies, but it also the 'maverick' type too. In the video there is a strong emphasis on Cain being a different type of candidate. The fact he can feel unconstrained to sanction the smoking in the ad and the visual props of the cigarette also emphasises a candidate who is a bit different."

Looking at the 2008 Democrat Campaign

Cain's rise to poll leader is comparable with that of Barack Obama's three years ago. A seemingly unknown senator from Chicago, Obama was well behind Hilary Clinton in the primaries.

"In 2008 Mrs Clinton never polled more than 50% of Democrats and so was never able to 'seal the deal'. Obama started at around 20-25% and after Iowa and the early primaries was clearly established as her challenger," said Mansell. "This time around Mitt Romney has generally led the GOP field, but he has never polled more than 25% of the Republican vote. He was briefly challenged by Rick Perry. Now it is Herman Cain's turn. Over the coming weeks we will see if he can sustain his advance and turn it into a two horse race for the Republican nomination."