Being the 48th person to become a contributor to what would become Ben Carson’s presidential campaign earned Melvin Mitchum a front-row seat Monday to see the retired Maryland neurosurgeon at a legal issues forum.
The 82-year-old retired SCANA employee from Columbia said he likes Carson for two reasons: “He wants to bring God back into America,” and “He’s a non-politician. In Washington, those guys are junk.”
But Carson’s presidential fortunes are sliding just two weeks before the first votes are cast in Iowa.
Once the second-choice in the GOP presidential field behind New York billionaire Donald Trump, Carson has fallen to fourth in national polls since November, sliding past U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida.
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A S.C. poll, released over the weekend, has Carson in fifth place with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush pulling ahead of the doctor.
Carson has struggled on foreign-policy issues on the national stage, especially during debates where his quiet demeanor is overshadowed by the campaign’s more boisterous voices.
But, after speaking to a crowd that filled the gym Monday at Brookland Baptist Church, Carson predicted his poll numbers will rise as he meets more voters face-to-face on the campaign trail.
“When they have an opportunity to hear you, like today, that changes a lot of minds,” Carson said. “I’m not a polished politician, so I’m not going to have these nice, crisp debate-type answers because I really think the issues that affect us are much greater than that.”
During Monday’s forum, moderated by Republican S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, Carson was more animated than he appears on television. He spoke louder and often had the crowd clapping as he suggested America needs his faith-based approach to fix its problems.
Carson said he wants to end lifetime appointments for federal judges, noting life expectancy has doubled since the U.S. court system was created. Ending lifetime appointments, intended to insulate judges from politics, is a way to assure judges make rulings that better serve the American people, he said.
He also said he wants Congress to pass a law to end same-sex marriages. If allowed to remain legal, same-sex marriage will bring down America by tearing apart “faith and family,” he said.
Carson favors having “secret shoppers” who would check on federal agencies to see if they need to employ so many people. He also sees no need for federal employees to have unions since they work the American people.
Like the other Republican presidential candidates, Carson gives his full backing to gun rights, saying people, more than ever, need to protect themselves from terror attacks and the possibility of the U.S. government getting out of control.
“We have been free for hundreds of years because we have been armed for hundred of years,” Carson said, drawing a loud round of applause from the crowd.
Asked after the forum what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would think of race relations today, Carson said the civil rights leader would be disappointed. “The Bible says without a vision, the people parish. And what we’re allowing, because we don’t have a vision any more, is the purveyors of division to run roughshod over us.”
Carson rode the wave of Republican voters craving an outsider in office, the same wave that now has made Trump and Cruz the top two GOP contenders. But despite his slide in the polls, Carson’s supporters are confident their candidate will remain viable as the anti-Trump, which means avoiding the brusk one-liners and insults that have marked the real estate mogul’s career.
“If he can stay in the race long enough, the others will fall off. I know it,” said Grant McConaghy, who works in security at the Amazon distribution center. “He won’t change who he is.”
But if Carson drops out, Cruz is the second choice of many Carson supporters.
They said the Texas senator’s values-oriented campaign appeals to them more than Trump.
“He doesn’t know if it’s Second Corinthians or two Corinthians,” McConaghy said, referring to Trump’s verbal flub Monday at Liberty University. “He’s just not real or genuine. He’s rude and crude.”
Correction: The original version of this story misspelled the name of Carson supporter Grant McConaghy.