Amid the bombast of the Republican race for US president, Ben Carson comes across like a whisper.
He is the anti-Trump, a gentle candidate, a renowned brain surgeon. The rare bragging about his resume and place in the polls is delivered with none of the superlatives that Donald Trump can’t go without.
Yet the 63-year-old Republican, the only African-American seeking the White House in 2016, has tapped into the same wave of anti-establishment outrage that is fuelling billionaire reality TV star Trump’s rise.
“The likelihood of someone like me getting through this process, and making it to president, is virtually impossible,” Carson said recently.
“I just have to be myself. And if being myself resonates with the American people, then they will choose me. And if it doesn’t,” he said, “they will choose somebody else.”
Like Trump, Carson was dismissed early as a gaffe-prone novice who lacked a national profile and a significant political network. But he is connecting with Republican voters at a rate that even his closest aides didn’t predict.
Heading into last night’s second debate of the GOP contest, Carson found himself alongside Trump atop the field.
A New York Times/CBS News poll shows Carson favoured by 23% of likely Republican primary voters, compared to Trump’s 27%. Former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, and Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, have plummeted to 6% and 2%, respectively.
But 63% said they may change their minds before the primaries begin, with the Iowa caucuses in February.
Yet, it was just one of several polls in recent days that feature the political rookies, Trump and Carson, leading a field of veterans of elected office, offering the clearest example yet that Republican voters have deep frustrations with the political establishment.
It shows in Carson’s fundraising, too. His campaign says it has raised $5m so far this month, adding to the $9m it pulled in during July and August, a strong performance at what is typically one of the hardest times for candidates to raise money.
Last night offered Carson a new chance to build on that momentum. A stage full of Republican candidates faced off at the Reagan Presidential Library for the party’s second formal debate.
Carson emerged from the first as a surprise success, his popularity fuelled by his nice-guy image on a night when his competitors came out swinging.
Yet he remains rough around the edges and has little experience with issues beyond health care and business, particularly foreign policy, in an election in which international affairs are a major part of the discussion.
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