Car­son im­presses evan­gel­i­cal vot­ers, gains wide­spread trust

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KELLY RID­DELL

Ben Car­son has en­thralled evan­gel­i­cal con­ser­va­tives in his surge to the top of Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial polls, but his sup­port stretches well be­yond that key de­mo­graphic, with vot­ers say­ing they see him as a palat­able mav­er­ick ca­pa­ble of shak­ing up Wash­ing­ton with­out plow­ing it over.

“He is so gen­uine. He speaks the truth with re­spect and is such a wise man,” said Cyn­thia Wil­son, a Car­son sup­porter from Brent­wood, New Hamp­shire. “For what he doesn’t know, I trust he will put in­tel­li­gent peo­ple around him to do a great job run­ning the coun­try.”

New Hamp­shire is the sec­ond-least reli­gious state, ac­cord­ing to voter exit polls, and Ms. Wil­son wouldn’t clas­sify her­self as an evan­gel­i­cal voter. She is, how­ever, sick of putting pro­fes­sional politi­cians in of­fice only to see noth­ing change in Wash­ing­ton.

Don­ald Trump, the real es­tate mogul bat­tling Mr. Car­son for the top spot in the polls, is not as trust­wor­thy in her es­ti­ma­tion.

“Don­ald Trump, he scares me. I feel like he’s too pas­sion­ate in some ways. I don’t think he has a level head,” said Ms. Wil­son. “The most im­por­tant thing for me is the char­ac­ter of a per­son, and Ben Car­son has that.”

Mr. Car­son has taken the lead over Mr. Trump in polling in Iowa, where evan­gel­i­cal vot­ers made up 57 per­cent of Repub­li­can cau­cus-go­ers in 2012. The sur­veys show much of Mr. Car­son’s boost has come from win­ning over those reli­gious con­ser­va­tives.

But the lat­est CBS/New York Times na­tional poll sug­gests the re­tired neu­ro­sur­geon’s sup­port runs deeper. He leads Mr. Trump among women, is vir­tu­ally tied among men and per­forms well among con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans and those who iden­tify as tea par­ty­ers. Mr. Trump, mean­while, leads Mr. Car­son among mod­er­ates and those with­out col­lege de­grees, the poll found.

Vot­ers, evan­gel­i­cal or not, say they think Mr. Car­son would make prin­ci­pled de­ci­sions and, un­like Mr. Trump, is hum­ble enough to take guid­ance and try to unite the Repub­li­can Party, not di­vide it fur­ther.

“Ben Car­son, I feel like can lis­ten to ev­ery­body’s ideas and be a uniter,” said Denny Burk, a Car­son sup­porter from Wever, Iowa, who is reg­is­tered as an in­de­pen­dent. “This coun­try is the most di­vided I’ve ever seen. Look at the racism, Repub­li­cans and Democrats be­ing at each other’s throats, the one-per­centers ver­sus ev­ery­body else. Every­where you look, peo­ple are try­ing to di­vide us as a na­tion. United we stand and di­vided we fall, and I feel Ben Car­son could be a re­ally good uniter.”

Mr. Burk, who is pro-choice and con­sid­ers him­self more lib­eral on so­cial is­sues, said he ad­mires Mr. Car­son’s in­tel­li­gence and hu­mil­ity: “He doesn’t know every­thing, but is will­ing to go out and get the peo­ple that do know. I trust in him, and I trust in that.”

Still, there is lit­tle doubt that his reli­gious faith is a ma­jor part of the rea­son for his as­cen­dance in Iowa, where the most re­cent Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity poll found that 28 per­cent of Repub­li­can cau­cus-go­ers were look­ing for a nom­i­nee who shares their val­ues — and 84 per­cent said Mr. Car­son did so. The next-clos­est can­di­date was Marco Ru­bio at 68 per­cent.

Mr. Car­son, a Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist, is not shy about his faith guid­ing his prin­ci­ples.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sun­day, he quoted a Bi­ble verse to ex­plain his po­lit­i­cal ap­proach: “Solomon, the wis­est man who ever lived, said in Proverbs 11:14, ‘In a mul­ti­tude of coun­selors is safety.’ If the wis­est man who ever lived thought that, I cer­tainly be­lieve that,” he said.

“Where Trump is win­ning with white work­ing-class males, be­cause they like his bois­ter­ous, over-the-top machismo, Car­son’s main sup­port seems to be older, white, ru­ral evan­gel­i­cals, who like his more mild and soft-spo­ken de­meanor,” said Den­nis Gold­ford, author of “The Con­sti­tu­tion of Reli­gious Free­dom: God, Pol­i­tics and the First Amend­ment.”

While at­tend­ing the Faith and Free­dom event in Iowa, Mr. Gold­ford, a pro­fes­sor at Drake Univer­sity, met a woman who sup­ported Mr. Car­son be­cause, she said, “he is a smart man who knows how to solve prob­lems” but whose real ap­peal is that “if he doesn’t know what to do, he lays the spirit of Christ over him and makes his de­ci­sion that way.”

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is seen by many as trust­ing only in him­self. This im­age was per­pet­u­ated in July when Mr. Trump said he has never asked God’s for­give­ness.

“Why do I have to re­pent or ask for­give­ness if I’m not mak­ing mis­takes?” he asked CNN’s An­der­son Cooper.

Af­ter fall­ing be­hind Mr. Car­son in polling, Mr. Trump ques­tioned Mr. Car­son’s re­li­gion.

“I’m Pres­by­te­rian,” Mr. Trump said at an event Satur­day in Jack­sonville, Florida. “Boy, that’s down the mid­dle of the road, folks, in all fair­ness. I mean, Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.”

At­tacks like those don’t have any ef­fect on Mr. Car­son’s base or abil­ity to at­tract fol­low­ers, Mr. Gold­ford said.

“Even though Car­son is a dif­fer­ent reli­gious de­nom­i­na­tion, he says the right things and says them in a very non-Trump way that ap­peals to many folks,” Mr. Gold­ford said.

Mr. Car­son reg­u­larly tops the polls when vot­ers are asked whether they have a fa­vor­able or un­fa­vor­able view of the can­di­dates and is a pop­u­lar sec­ond-choice pick as well.

But po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts pre­dict Mr. Car­son and Mr. Trump will fade well be­fore the nom­i­na­tion is de­cided.

“I ul­ti­mately am guess­ing the Repub­li­can Party will elect some­one who has prior ex­pe­ri­ence in gov­ern­ment, that the sup­port that Trump and Car­son have isn’t go­ing to carry them through to the nom­i­na­tion,” said Bill Mayer, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at North­east­ern Univer­sity. “But it’s only fair to say I’m sur­prised they’ve got­ten as far as they have. There’s al­ways some­thing new in ev­ery race.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Repub­li­can vot­ers tell poll­sters that pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ben Car­son would make prin­ci­pled de­ci­sions and, un­like Don­ald Trump, is hum­ble enough to take guid­ance and be a uniter.

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