Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) — Ben Carson and Donald Trump find themselves atop the polls in Iowa with 75 days to the caucus using a similar strategy that doesn’t include the traditional retail politicking or visiting all 99 counties.
But Trump has been the frontrunner in Iowa for almost four months whereas Carson’s rise has come during a period where he hasn’t campaigned in the state in a month and a half.
“We’re competing everywhere. Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, you name it,” Carson’s Iowa State Director Ryan Rhodes told ABC News.
Carson returns to Iowa on Friday and then Sunday for his first visit since Oct. 1 besides one day of book tour stops. The majority of his events and speeches have centered around faith and his upcoming visit will be no different.
“He shares his faith and it has allowed Iowans to see his heart and how that has helped shape him,” Rhodes said. “But Iowa is especially important to the Carson campaign because of the large number of evangelical Christians who vote, 42 percent of Republican caucus goers in 2012.”
Carson is set to attend a social conservative presidential forum Friday in Des Moines, appealing to evangelical Christians and then visit two churches on Sunday. When Carson was last in Iowa, he found himself behind frontrunner Donald Trump in the polls. But a Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa Republicans released Oct. 22 had Carson 8 percentage-points ahead of Trump.
But how has the former neurosurgeon managed to build momentum?
“It’s the interviews and the debates and the news conferences,” said Carson supporter Barb Clayton of Spirit Lake, Iowa.
Clayton has only seen Carson in person once back in May with 2,000 other Republicans at the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Dinner. But she told ABC News she didn’t even notice he hasn’t been in the state because of all the media coverage.
“He’s very intelligent and that comes through in what he says and how he says it. He can relate to everyday people and he’s also become more knowledgeable on many subjects form the economy to National security,” Clayton said.
Though Carson’s time in Iowa doesn’t come close to Rick Santorum’s 66 days, his campaign’s strategy is clearly working with TV ads, billboards, visits by his wife Candy and a presence at Sunday church services with the Carson campaign bus as the main attraction.
“We stop at a church that’s willing to have us and following church, there’s usually food and banquet time so we cook burgers, hot dogs, and brats for them,” said Rhodes, who founded the Iowa Tea Party and worked for Michele Bachmann’s campaign for the 2012 caucus. “We answer questions about Dr. Carson and let them know we’re part of the Iowa community and the faith community.”
Rhodes said Carson is excited to return to Iowa on Friday and plans to “be back a lot in December.” The more Iowans hear Carson’s life story, the more they seem to be attracted to him and Rhodes said the key to his appeal is “he’s not a politician” worried about being “politically correct.”
Barb Clayton said that if the caucus were tomorrow, she’d vote for Carson, but the small business owner does have some reservations.
“The last couple of elections I watched my candidate drop out after Iowa so I’m making sure I’m studying everyone. I want to pick a winner,” Clayton told ABC News, referring to her votes for Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa caucus in 2008 and 2012, respectively, but couldn’t secure the nomination.
Like many Iowans, Clayton said she’s proud of her state’s “first in the nation” status in the lead-up to the general election. She just hopes whoever Iowa sends on, whether it’s Carson or someone else, will be able to go the distance.
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