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Eye On Candidates
October 23, 2015

Carson Overtakes Trump in Iowa

The end of the week is often a time to catch up on things, and this morning brings us some catching-up. Leading off is an article that could significantly alter the Republican nomination fight – a second poll released today shows retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has passed businessman Donald Trump in the key early state of Iowa. From The Des Moines Register:

Iowa Poll: Carson surges to 9-point lead; Trump slides

Donald Trump is the biggest loser in the new Iowa Poll.

The pious Ben Carson has plowed past the braggadocious New York businessman to take the front-runner crown, unseating Trump as the most popular choice for president among likely GOP caucusgoers, the new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll shows.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, is the favorite choice for 28 percent — 9 percentage points ahead of Trump's 19 percent.

The poll delves under the headline numbers and finds that only 15 percent of Carson’s supporters are firmly committed to him while 83 percent they could change their mind (2 percent didn’t know), while Trump’s support seems more solid with 32 percent saying their mind is made up and 67 percent saying they could switch to someone else. But Carson’s support seems to have more potential to grow, while there remains a substantial bloc of opposition to Trump that limits his ability to expand:

Asked which candidate they’d like to see drop out of the race, if anyone, more caucusgoers (25 percent) name Trump than any of his 14 rivals. And among both moderates and caucusgoers ages 44 or under, 36 percent would like him to quit, noted J. Ann Selzer, the pollster for the Iowa Poll….

Carson has plenty of room to grow in Iowa: He’s at 28 percent in the horse race, but he could exploit another 25 percentage points from the 53 percent of caucusgoers who have "very favorable" feelings about him, [GOP strategist Alex] Castellanos said.

Despite Trump’s apparent fall in Iowa, there seems to be a growing number of political insiders who think the businessman might actually win the Republican nomination, according to Politico:

The odds that Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination are going up.

Eighty-one percent of Republican insiders say that the likelihood that Trump becomes their party’s nominee is higher today than it was a month ago, and 79 percent of Democrats said the same. That’s according to the POLITICO Caucus, our weekly bipartisan survey of the top strategists, operatives and activists in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

“I can't even describe the lunacy of him as our nominee. But reason has not applied to date in this race and my hopes are fleeting that it will ever surface,” lamented an Iowa Republican, who like all participants was granted anonymity in order to speak freely.

“Predictions of his demise keep not coming true,” added a New Hampshire Republican.

Asserted a South Carolina Republican, “Donald Trump being the GOP nominee is now within the realm of possibility.”

The biggest factors cited in Trump’s increasing odds of getting the nomination are his persistence as the frontrunner in polls, and the fact that his campaign seems to be building the organization needed to actually deliver voters to the caucuses and polling stations:

Several insiders pointed to both his persistent leads in polls and evidence of organization on the ground.

“I think he's now mounting a serious campaign,” a South Carolina Republican said. “His stump speech had matured and even though the novelty of his candidacy is wearing off, his straight talk is appealing to people who are so sick of being lied to by the political class.”

Agreed an Iowa Republican, “The more time that goes by that he continues to lead-- the more likely it is he wins. That simple. Also, comparatively, he is building a real campaign. More so than many others.”

Trump falling behind Carson in Iowa likely brings closer the day when the businessman starts attacking the doctor the way he has several of his other GOP rivals. According to CNN last week, Trump appears to be looking forward to the opportunity:

Donald Trump plans to start attacking Ben Carson because the retired neurosurgeon has risen in the polls, Trump said Wednesday.

ABC "Good Morning America" host George Stephanopoulos asked the Republican front-runner if he would go after Carson now that he's gaining on the media mogul in the polls.

"Probably. At some point, yes, which I actually look forward to doing," Trump said, adding that at the moment, "I can't do it. He's been so nice to me."

Trump said Carson's lack of experience in foreign policy would be his main focus of attack.

Carson still trails Trump nationally – according to the average of polls, Trump leads 27.2 to 21.3 – but the Iowa poll is likely to bring any unstated truce between the outsiders to an end, at least from Trump’s side. How this battle between the two frontrunners plays out could determine whether either or both of them make it to the first votes in February.