On the eve of the third Republican debate, Ben Carson has surged to the top of the GOP field. According to the New York Times/CBS poll, released Tuesday, Carson is now the top choice of 26 percent of Republican primary voters. Trump, the long-time front runner has 22 percent. Carson’s four point lead lies within the margin of error.
This is the first time that Trump has not led all candidates since The Times and CBS News began measuring presidential preferences at the end of July. Trump has led all national polls for over 100 straight days. Since the last Times/CBS poll, Trump has fallen five points and Carson has gained five points. The two candidates essentially traded places.
No other Republican comes close to Carson or Trump. Senator Marco Rubio received eight percent; Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina each had seven percent. Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Gov. John R. Kasich each received support from four percent of those surveyed. More than half of the Republican primary voters said they were paying “a lot” of attention to the campaign. This is essentially unchanged from a CBS News survey in early October.
The new poll shows that the vast majority of Republicans have not firmly made up their minds: Seven in 10 of those who expressed support for a candidate said it was too early to say for sure who they would support. Just 28 percent indicated that their minds were made up. Trump’s supporters, however, are more certain of their support than Carson’s. A majority of Trump supporters, 55 percent, said their minds were made up. But 80 percent of Carson backers said it was too early to say for sure that they would eventually support him.
This poll may spell trouble for Trump. The Reuters tracking poll on Tuesday also showed Carson ahead of Trump 33 percent to 26 percent. Two days ago, Trump still led Carson by five and a half points in the Reuters tracking poll. In Iowa, Carson has also surged ahead of Trump in three consecutive polls.
Trump did not take the news of the polls lightly. In Sioux City, Iowa Tuesday evening, the billionaire businessman was practically begging voters for support. He repeatedly urged the audience to get his poll numbers up. Trump said he thinks it’s terrible being in second place. Trump broke his usual rally format by taking questions. He even descended from his raised platform and ventured into the audience so he could speak directly to a wounded veteran in a wheelchair.
Carson’s surge has come after he suspended normal campaign activities in order to go on a tour to sell his latest book. Carson has built up a successful brand among a core Republican constituency. His gains are coming from Evangelical Christians and women, many of them are disillusioned with Trump’s frequent attacks on women.
Carson’s recent statements are resonating with voters— particularly in Iowa. A Bloomberg/Des Moines register poll showed that a majority of GOP caucus voters agree with his stance on a Muslim president and his statements about Nazi Germany and gun control. And, Carson’s race also makes him an attractive candidate for Republicans, particularly after FOX News owner Rupert Murdock called Carson a “real black.”
“Conservatives are used to hearing three things over and over again: that they are racists, that they are bigots, and that they aren’t very bright,” said Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, a conservative online magazine told CNN. “His race, faith, and intelligence all satisfy conservative desires to push back against current negative ideas about who Republicans are.”
Establishment Republican candidates, who are left far behind in the dust, are attacking Trump and Carson ahead of Wednesday’s debate. It remains to be seen if Carson’s ascendancy is a blip or a trend. Is Carson the new Trump? Perhaps Wednesday’s debate will give us a clue. Expect fireworks in Boulder Wednesday night, not in the sky but in the debate hall.