Ben Carson at book signing at BAM in Tallahassee Florida

photo by Gena Pedroni, Thursday Review

NBC News/WSJ Poll: Carson Leads Trump Among Republicans

| published November 3, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

Dr. Ben Carson is burnishing his position as the newly minted Republican front-runner in what has become the year of the outsiders for the GOP.

According to a new poll by NBC News/Wall Street Journal, the retired neurosurgeon now leads among all Republicans in primary and caucus states, bringing in support from 29% of GOP voters. Businessman and television personality Donald Trump is in a solid second place with 23%, followed by Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz at 11 and 10 percent each.

According to the same poll, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush trails in fifth place with about 8%, his lowest score yet in a major poll, and another sign that Bush’s campaign—once considered the operation to beat—is in deep trouble, sparking more concerns by his early, heavyweight contributors that their investment in his candidacy may come to naught. Seven months ago Bush was the polling leader, often tied with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for the lead. Walker dropped out the race in late September amid poor polling and sinking fundraising.

More dramatic still: Carson is now the only Republican in the crowded field of more than a dozen candidates who polls evenly with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Clinton and Carson in a dead heat, with 47% support each. The latest polls also show that Carson is easily winning among all candidates when it comes to independent voters, even attracting more independent support than either Clinton, Trump, or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Carson’s rise in the polls—while syphoning some support away from Trump—may be coming at the expense of former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, once on the rise and considered by the smart political handicappers the more likely candidate to nudge Trump from the top spot.

NBC News says that Carson’s new mark of 29% is the highest score yet for any Republican so far this year, besting even Trump’s highest numbers earlier in the summer. But Trump once held an even more substantial lead in other polls, rising to as high as 31% in some composite polling indexes in July.

Carson has been campaigning in Florida early this week, making book signing appearances at shopping centers and attracting thousands. On Monday, in Tallahassee, some 7,500 people stood in line at a Books-A-Million to buy copies of Carson’s most recent book, and take quick photos of the candidate. The line stretched through the store and around the exterior. According to store personnel, roughly 4,750 copies of the book had been sold by 12:30 p.m. And according to local police, the line outside the suburban store began forming before sunrise.

Carson left Tallahassee at 1:00 p.m. and traveled on his campaign bus to The Villages, near Ocala, where more than five thousand people attended a book signing at a huge Barnes & Noble retail location. There too, lines stretched out of the store and around the shopping center, where hundreds of people had shown up before daybreak to catch a glimpse of the candidate or obtain a signed copy of Carson’s book. Carson left Ocala and traveled to Kissimmee, Florida (near Orlando) that evening for more campaigning, press interviews and still another book signing event.

The next day, on Tuesday, Carson attended similar events in Tampa and Leesburg, where thousands more showed up to purchase copies of Carson’s newest book and shake the hand of the candidate. As was the case in Tallahassee and The Villages, hundreds showed up before daybreak.

Sales of Carson’s newest books are outpacing all other political books by candidates or quasi-candidates combined—a strong indicator, political analysts suggest, that Carson’s campaign is catching fire with a wide tract of voters, even Democrats.

The polls released by NBC News/Wall Street Journal reflect surveys taken after the most recent Republican debate, which was held in Boulder, Colorado and hosted by CNBC. The poll also confirms that Rubio and Cruz are in a tight competition to secure the allegiance of those voters who may be looking for some form of elected experience in their GOP candidate, but who are also seeking a candidate with solid conservative credentials. The poll also reveals the dangerous waters ahead for Bush, who must somehow quickly lead his campaign into a turnaround before potential donors dismiss his campaign as a lost cause, and before supporters migrate toward other candidates. Cruz and Rubio were each largely declared the winners of that most recent GOP debate, but it was Bush’s weak performance which also generated headlines and discussion.

Republican pollsters are divided on whether Carson’s upward move in the polls, which establishes him as the undisputed front-runner (very few polls still show Trump with the lead, though most show him in a solid second place), is a temporal shift among GOP voters burned out on Trump, or if Carson’s rise represents a more permanent stampede away from the other no-traditional candidates, including Fiorina.

Political observers point out, however, that Carson’s fundraising has exceeded expectations, a sign that supporters and donors have confidence that the retired neurosurgeon can go the distance even with a relatively crowded field. Carson raked-in more than $20 million in the third quarter, some $12 million during September alone—a sure sign that his momentum is gaining additional strength. Fundraising efforts by the Bush campaign, by contrast, have begun to fall. Earlier in the year, Bush was raising cash faster than any other candidate, including Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.

The next 90 days is critical for all remaining Presidential candidates, as it is the last opportunity to raise money to be spent on advertising and campaign activity in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina—three of the early, crucial primary and caucus states.

Carson has been campaigning hard in Iowa over the recent weeks, and his staff has been organizing volunteers and building contacts and connections in all of Iowa’s counties—much of the work being done in churches on Sundays and Wednesdays, according to a new article in Bloomberg. Carson’s substantial fundraising mechanism, now hitting full stride, will enable those Iowa operations to grow even stronger over the next six to eight weeks. Bloomberg is also reporting that Carson’s success with evangelicals in Iowa is pulling potential support from others with a similar outreach, including Cruz, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Carson Rakes-In Record Fundraising Totals; Thursday Review; Thursday Review; October 1, 2015.

Trump: Polls, Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live Without ‘Em ; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; October 25, 2015.