Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson signaled the effective end of his presidential campaign Wednesday, saying he no longer sees a path to victory and will be shifting his operation in another direction.
Mr. Carson said he won’t attend the debate scheduled for Thursday in Detroit, but said he’ll lay out his plans at his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. CPAC is where Mr. Carson made his first real foray into politics several years ago.
“I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening’s Super Tuesday primary results,” he said in a statement, though he insisted he is not formally suspending his campaign and vowed to remain focused on constitutional principles as he moves into his next phase.
On Tuesday night, as results from Super Tuesday came in, Mr. Carson said he was staying in the race as long as “the Lord keeps opening doors” and voters seemed to want him.
But hours later CNN reported that party leaders were asking Mr. Carson to withdraw from the presidential race and make a bid for the Florida Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the other GOP presidential candidates this year.
Mr. Carson didn’t mention any such suggestion in his statements Tuesday or Wednesday.
Mr. Carson has not won or placed second in any of the 15 states that have voted in the GOP primary so far, and only once has he even cracked 10 percent of the vote in a state. That came Tuesday in Alabama, where he was still a distant fourth place.
Overall, he earned just 6 percent of the votes cast across the primaries and caucuses, putting him behind the other four major candidates still actively seeking the GOP’s nomination.
His poor performance overshadowed the deep well of good feelings many Republican voters had toward him. Voters coming out of polling booths said they would have liked to vote for Mr. Carson, but didn’t believe he was viable or questioned his campaign skills in a head-to-head matchup with a Democrat.
His support may not have translated into votes, but it did mean cash. He became a direct-mail fundraising master, easily outdistancing the rest of the GOP field in fundraising for his own campaign. He said money wasn’t a factor in his decision Wednesday.
“Gratefully, my campaign decisions are not constrained by finances; rather by what is in the best interests of the American people,” he said.
Analysts have debated who will get the lion’s share of Mr. Carson’s supporters, with each of the remaining candidates having some claim on them.
Morning Consult, which has been polling this year’s races, said its surveys show Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio are most likely to benefit, having been most frequently named second-choice picks by Carson supporters.
Mr. Trump, though, argues he will also pick up support from candidates who drop out. And indeed the exit of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush from the race after South Carolina’s primary did little to change the overall division of support.
Mr. Trump, who’d won 32 percent of the total votes in the first three states while Mr. Bush was in the race, has since won 35 percent of votes in the next dozen states. Mr. Cruz’s share leapt from 21 percent to 29 percent, thanks in large part to his home state of Texas. And Mr. Rubio’s level of support rose from 20 percent to 22 percent.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the other remaining contender, is the only one who’s failed so far to capitalize on the narrower field, seeing his support drop from 9 percent of the total vote to 6 percent in the most recent 12 races.