Sources said Thursday that Carson’s campaign manager Barry Bennett and communications director Doug Watts gave Carson their notice.
Watts confirmed the news in a statement: “Yes, Barry Bennett and I have resigned from the Carson campaign effective immediately. We respect the candidate and we have enjoyed helping him go from far back in the field to top tier status. Having just announced raising $23 million for the fourth quarter, more than any other Republican candidate, and passing one million contributions and over 600 million unique donors. Since March, we are proud of our efforts for Dr. Carson and we wish him and his campaign the best of luck.”
Later Thursday, Deputy Campaign Manager Lisa Coen said that she has resigned because of Bennett and Watts’ departures. “I am deeply concerned about the campaign’s ability to move forward successfully without them,” Coen said. She said she wishes Carson “all the best going forward.”
Carson once led the polls in Iowa but has seen his popularity slide in the wake of questions about his foreign policy experience. The shake-up is likely to further disrupt the campaign’s equilibrium just as it was about to launch its final 30-day strategy plan before the Feb. 1 caucuses. Bennett and Watts had been planning to move to Iowa during the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, along with about 20 other campaign staffers and hundreds of mostly college-aged volunteers.
Ryan Rhodes, Carson’s Iowa campaign director, said the volunteers will still be pouring into Iowa to campaign for Carson in the final month.
“I’m excited for January,” Rhodes told the Register. “Ben Carson has personally guaranteed me the campaign will have the resources to be successful in Iowa.”
Carson’s national senior strategist Ed Brook over is the new campaign manager, replacing Bennett, aides said.
Sources said the Bennett and Watts quit because of tensions with Armstrong Williams, a conservative radio personality and long-time friend of Carson’s who has been advising him in an unpaid role. Williams has described himself as Carson’s business partner and a long-time friend. The two met in the 1990s when Williams interviewed Carson for a TV show, The Hill has reported.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, may have hit his summit in the polls in Iowa with 28% support in October.
Since then, he has plunged 15 percentage points, according to an early December Iowa Poll of likely GOP caucus goers conducted by the Register and Bloomberg Politics.
National security became a weakness for him, the polling shows. It’s a top issue in the GOP race, but very few likely caucus goers think Carson would be best to combat Islamic terrorism, just 5% when compared with the new Iowa front-runner Ted Cruz (32%) and Donald Trump (35%). Carson also measured low on the question about who’d make the best commander in chief, only 12% think he’d be best in that role. Carson’s image numbers also fell dramatically between October and December. The number who look at him “very” favourably plunged 25 percentage points — from 53% to 28%.
In mid-November, in a national television interview, Carson couldn’t name a country or leader he would call to form an international coalition to counter terrorists with the Islamic State, despite being asked three times by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. Carson made other missteps, including mispronouncing the name of the Palestinian group Hamas as “hummus” during a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington.
And Carson began to get pushback from evangelical Christians, a dominant voting bloc in the Iowa caucuses, after he said in an interview with The Washington Post published in early December that he doesn’t believe in the “Rapture” or a physical hell.
Another religious conservative, Cruz, a Texas U.S. senator, has taken the lead in Iowa, siphoning votes from Carson. Faith leaders will stump for Carson in January, drawing contrasts with Cruz, Carson aides said.
“We’re going to provide a clear message and show the real Dr. Carson,” Rhodes said.