Top Carson aides resign abruptly as his presidential campaign flounders

Ben Carson at his home in Upperco, Maryland, last week.
Ben Carson at his home in Upperco, Maryland, last week. –Andrew Hamik / AP

New upheaval engulfed Ben Carson’s troubled presidential campaign on Thursday as his campaign manager and his spokesman resigned abruptly.

Barry Bennett, the campaign manager, and Doug Watts, the spokesman, resigned as they were about to be dismissed, the campaign said. Carson has been sliding in polls amid questions about his grasp of foreign policy and scrutiny of his own biographical narrative.

“Barry Bennett and I have resigned from the Carson campaign effective immediately,’’ Watts said in an email.

“We respect the candidate, and we have enjoyed helping him go from far back in the field to top-tier status,’’ he added, pointing to how much money the campaign said Thursday that it had raised: about $23 million in the last three months.

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It is a critical time for the campaign, one month before the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa, where Carson hopes to rally evangelicals and other socially conservative voters in the first contest of the presidential race.

The shake-up had been coming for days, as Bennett and Watts clashed over the direction of the campaign with Armstrong Williams, a conservative radio host and outside adviser to Carson.

“Dr. Carson is back in control,’’ Williams said in an interview before the news broke.

“This is what happens when there’s a sentiment shift,’’ Williams added. “It’s not easy letting go people that have been there.’’

Carson had been scheduled to talk with the two aides at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Williams said. Sensing they were about to lose their jobs, they resigned, he said.

Carson had previously raised the specter of an overhaul of his campaign, saying last Wednesday, “Everything is on the table, every job is on the table.’’ Later that day, he appeared to backtrack, saying in a statement, “My senior team remains in place with my full confidence.’’

To oversee his campaign, Carson picked Robert F. Dees, a retired Army general on the staff of Liberty University in Virginia. Dees said recently that he had met Carson in February and that, to school the candidate in foreign policy, the two had “locked ourselves up in a hotel room a couple of different sessions and took walks around the world.’’

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Just two months ago, Carson was riding high in his presidential bid, having surged to the top of some polls in Iowa.

But then he faced scrutiny of elements of his biography and questions about his knowledge of foreign policy, particularly in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, which thrust the issue of national security to the fore of the presidential race. He saw his standing in the polls slide as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas rose to lead some surveys of Iowa Republicans.

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