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Ben Carson expects to defy odds in Iowa caucuses

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
  • Ben Carson argues he will defy the political odds and finish better than expected in Iowa’s caucuses
  • “We’re seeing a lot of movement on the ground,” Carson said in a Friday Detroit News interview
  • “I’m really leaning his way now,” said Bruce Koester, 71, of Newton, Iowa, a Vietnam veteran
  • Carson said skeptical reporting about his books have helped prepare him for the White House

Mt. Pleasant, Iowa — Detroit native Ben Carson argues he will defy the political odds stacked against him and finish better than expected in Monday’s Iowa caucuses after his presidential campaign has stumbled from a short-lived frontrunner status in the fall.

The soft-spoken retired pediatric neurosurgeon planned 10 campaign stops across Iowa in the final four days before Iowa Republican voters crowd into community halls, churches and schools Monday night to cast secret ballots at caucus meetings for their preferred GOP presidential candidate.

“We’re seeing a lot of movement on the ground, there’s a lot of shifting going on right now,” Carson said Friday in an interview with The Detroit News before holding a town hall meeting at a private university in southeast Iowa. “It almost feels like an earthquake. And I think a lot of it is shifting in our favor.”

“So we’re actually looking forward to a very good night, which would be quite surprising, I think, to a lot of pundits,” he added.

As Carson speaks to smaller crowds than high-polling candidates such as New York billionaire businessman Donald Trump and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz are attracting, he says he is winning over voters who haven’t made up their minds in this year’s crowded field of candidates.

“Having just the opportunity to get in front of people and actually let them hear your heart and what you believe as opposed to being interpreted to people through the media,” said Carson, whose recent debate performances have been widely panned by media critics. “If I listened to what the media said about me, I’d run in the other direction.”

He caught fire with grassroots conservatives for attacking political correctness but started losing supporters when he stumbled on foreign policy issues during debates in the past two months.

Yet Carson has managed to keep raising tens of millions of dollars, and he has a faithful following of supporters drawn to his life story of overcoming a father-less childhood of poverty in southwest Detroit to later become a world famous neurosurgeon. He is the only African-American candidate in the Democratic and Republican fields.

At a town hall meeting Friday night here at Iowa Wesleyan University, Carson mixed his views on patriotism, morality and religion with policy prescriptions for increasing military spending ,and reversing a decline in workplace readiness among young people with universal school vouchers.

Voters react to Carson

“I’m really leaning his way now,” said Bruce Koester, 71, of Newton, Iowa, after seeing Carson speak at Iowa Wesleyan University.

Koester, a retired Veterans Administration clerk, said he had been weighing Carson against Trump, Cruz and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. A Vietnam War veteran, Koester also attended the event Trump held for veterans Thursday night in Des Moines instead of debating the other GOP candidates.

“He’s a man of God, he’s very intelligent,” Koester said of Carson. “There’s no premeditated spin. He’s saying what’s in his heart and what he believes. I’m very impressed.”

Grace Drummond, a 58-year-old nurse from Cantril, Iowa, also left Carson’s event Friday night moving toward his camp.

“I really thought when I went to the caucuses I would ask others their opinion, but right now I’m leaning toward Carson after hearing him,” Drummond said. “After being here tonight, I think he’s made my decision.”

Carson kicked off his bid for the White House in Detroit in May after being drafted by a grassroots group. He surged in the polls over the summer and began raising more campaign cash in Michigan than GOP heavyweights such as Cruz, Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

In early November, Carson briefly eclipsed Trump in national and Iowa polling of Republican voters.

But Carson’s frontrunner status was short-lived after news stories called into question some of the details of his best-selling 1990 autobiography that couldn’t be substantiated or didn’t match historical records.

Trump seized on passages in Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands,” and questioned whether the mild-mannered doctor was harboring a temper and rage that Carson says he shed as a teenager when he became a deeply devout Christian.

“They took a good, honest, hard-working person and just beat him to a pulp,” Koester said.

Carson contended Friday that skeptical reporting about the details in his books “have been debunked,” but he brushes off the impact it had on his candidacy.

“The way I look at it, it’s just practice for when you get into the White House,” Carson told The News on Friday. “...If you can’t deal with that, how are you going to deal with something worse than that?”

Since November, Carson’s candidacy has fallen off the radar nationally and suffered another setback just after Christmas when his campaign manager and communications director quit, citing frustration with the influence of Carson’s business manager and questioning his readiness to be president.

Two weeks ago, Carson suspended his campaigning for a day after 25-year-old campaign volunteer Braden Joplin of Texas died in a car accident in western Iowa that injured two other volunteers and a Carson campaign employee.

Carson traveled to Omaha to be with Joplin’s family.

Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, who is officially neutral in the presidential race, praised Carson’s actions after the tragedy during remarks at his town hall meeting at the private Christian university.

“That said a lot to me as a person, and I think it should speak to all of you as well,” Ernst told the Iowa voters in attendance, who applauded. “... Dr. Carson, you are an inspirational leader. And we need a heck of lot more of that.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood