- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

When the 2016 GOP campaign season kicked off, few predicted that Ben Carson’s presidential bid would ever become more than a novelty act.

But less than five months from the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Carson arguably remains the biggest surprise of the campaign season, having quietly taken over second place in polls in key early-voting states, leapfrogging a trio of contenders with heaps more political experience — and without the sort of polarization that’s accompanied Donald Trump.

Mr. Carson received some more good news Wednesday after WBUR-FM in Boston released a poll showing the 63-year-old second in New Hampshire, host of the first-in-the-nation primary, sandwiched between Mr. Trump at the top and another political novice, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, in third.

It’s no surprise those are the three candidates with no elected office on their resume, with GOP primary voters signaling they are eager to shake up the status quo.

Mr. Carson’s biggest political attribute, however, could be his likability, and the WMUR survey provided more evidence of that, showing that he is viewed more favorably than any of the other Republican White House hopefuls, with a net positive rating of 48 percentage points. That compares to a positive rating of just 5 points for Mr. Trump.

“Almost nobody dislikes Ben Carson,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the poll.

Mr. Carson is trying to get elected without any political experience — a feat last accomplished by Dwight Eisenhower, who made the jump in the 1952 election from the military to the White House.

A retired neurosurgeon, Mr. Carson gained some fame for being the first to successfully separate conjoined twins at the head. His medical work was celebrated in the 2009 movie “Gifted Hands,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr.

His political breakthrough came four years later at the National Prayer Breakfast, where he criticized Obamacare with President Obama sitting a few steps away — capturing the attention of conservatives well before people started talking about Mr. Trump.

That episode helped fuel calls for him to enter the GOP presidential race and provided him with a bigger platform to share the story of how he, the son of a single mother, pulled himself out of poverty to have a successful life.

He has suffered some hiccups since his May announcement that he was entering the campaign, including saying that being gay is a choice “because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay.” He later apologized for that comment.

Mr. Carson, a Seventh-day Adventist, also recently got into a dustup with Mr. Trump, questioning the New York billionaire’s Christian faith, but later said it was “not my intent to impugn anybody’s religious beliefs.”

For the most part, though, Mr. Carson has successfully tried to stay out of the “mud pit” and has stressed the need to bring the country together. He’s built his support as a less brash option for voters looking to tweak the GOP establishment but not willing to back Mr. Trump.

“If you like Donald Trump’s edgy establishment rhetoric, but you find him a bit rough and off-putting, then Carson is not very off-putting,” said Ed Martin, president of the Eagle Forum, a conservative group. “There are some conservatives, especially evangelicals, that might not know what to make of Trump’s roughness and lack of political correctness, and Carson has a softer touch.”

Mr. Martin also said that Mr. Carson is new to voters, and they embrace his laid-back, unconventional style.

Mr. Martin, though, said that Mr. Carson is going to face more scrutiny, including over his stance on gun rights, as well as where he stands on immigration.

There were signs of that before Wednesday’s debate.

ForAmerica Chairman Brent Bozell, who has endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, blasted out an email calling out Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump for refusing to respond to a two-question survey asking whether they would pledge to veto any spending bill that includes funding for Planned Parenthood and whether they would order the Department of Justice to investigate the group upon taking office.

“Mr. Trump has wavered on the issue in recent weeks, and Dr. Carson claims to be making a strong push for conservative support, but their refusal is disappointing and quite revealing,” Mr. Bozell said. “These were two simple, basic questions. If you can’t commit to this, you’re simply not serious about stopping the horrors at Planned Parenthood.”

Mr. Carson has called on Congress to stop funding for Planned Parenthood and supports a 20-week ban on abortions.

Democrats also have ramped up their attacks against Mr. Carson.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, sent Mr. Carson a letter this week urging him to rethink his recent assertion that there ” no overwhelming science” to prove that climate change is man-made and not naturally caused.

Mr. Brown passed along flash drive with scientific papers written by over 800 scientists from over 80 countries that “conclude that ‘human influence on the climate system is clear and grown, with impacts observed across all continents and oceans.”

“Please use your considerable intelligence to review this material,” Mr. Brown said. “Climate change is much bigger than partisan politics.”

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