Ben Carson drops campaign for book tour. Will it hurt his polls?

Carson is closing in on GOP front-runner Donald Trump, prompting concerns that he should be focused on the campaign, not selling books. 

Branden Camp/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
Copies of Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson's book are displayed at Free Chapel, Oct. 11, 2015, in Gainesville, Ga. Dr. Carson spoke to a large crowd during a worship service at Free Chapel.

Ben Carson is hot, politically speaking. He’s jumped to second place in the GOP polls, just behind Donald Trump. One recent Fox survey has him trailing The Donald by only one percentage point – a virtual tie.

Yes, he’s said some controversial things in recent weeks. But those inflammatory remarks, such as his comment that a Muslim shouldn’t be president, don’t seem to be bothering core supporters. With his compelling resume and a demonstrated appeal to evangelical voters, he’s well-positioned to hold his current slice of the GOP electorate and perhaps add to it in months to come.

But Mr. Carson isn’t getting ready to kick his campaign up a notch. To the contrary. He’s put overt political appearances on hold until Oct. 28 so he can go on a book tour to sell copies of his new tome, “A More Perfect Union," and catch up on fundraising events.

Why now? The hiatus is becoming fodder for his critics, including many in his own party. It’s feeding the suspicion of some on the right that Carson isn’t so much a real presidential contender as a political and cultural entrepreneur who is seeking to build his personal brand.

“It surely heightens the sense that his campaign takes a back seat to his personal interests and financial ambitions,” complains conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin on her Right Turn blog.

Well, maybe. It’s indeed true that it’s an odd time in the cycle for a candidate to take a break and go off to make a little personal cash. The Iowa caucuses are now only about three and a half months away, and Carson has been rising slowly and steadily. A competitive politician might feel that with a little boost he could run the turn at Christmas time and head into the stretch with a lead.

After all, many of Trump’s voters list Carson as their second choice. Together the two outsider contenders have cornered about half the GOP vote. Trump’s vote hasn’t shrunk recently, but it’s not getting any bigger, either. The media has tired of Donald stories. This might be Carson’s time to capitalize.

In fact, Carson could be the Jimmy Carter of 2016, someone who comes from nowhere to defeat the party establishment, writes Josh Kraushaar in National Journal. The context is similar to that of 1976: The economy is stagnant, there’s gridlock on Capitol Hill, and the public is furious at Washington.

“All this is contributing to an environment where an accomplished neurosurgeon with no political experience and limited knowledge of public policy can have a shot at the highest office in the land,” writes Mr. Kraushaar.

And it is not as if Carson’s book tour is winding through politically convenient territory, such as Iowa, New Hampshire, or other early voting states. Over the next 14 days he’ll be hitting Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and ... ok, Iowa. But still.

“If Ben Carson wanted the job of being President, there is no way that a book tour would prevent him from doing everything in his power to expand his campaign right now and to take over the lead for good from Donald Trump. He would be using these two weeks to do as many in-person appearances as possible – appearances which have, by and large, been responsible for his surge in the polls to date,” writes Leon Wolf at the conservative RedState site, in a scathing post.

But in today’s media environment, if a tree falls in Dallas, can’t they see it on YouTube in Des Moines? In other words, isn’t it possible that a book tour appearance in one area could get media coverage elsewhere, especially if the author is a hot commodity?

Donald Trump has proved that there is more than one way to run a political campaign. His involves minimal actual campaigning – occasional rally appearances – mixed with lots and lots of free media and phone-in interviews from his New York office. Easy. Cheap. Effective, for him.

Here’s the kicker: Carson’s been off the trail for some time. It’s been 13 days since he started his latest book tour iteration. He’s mixed in some political events, but for the most part he’s been off the trail.

During that time, he’s had his two best national polls to date, points out Hot Air’s Allahpundit. So maybe he’s not really off the trail, even when he is.

“The guy’s campaigning, for the moment at least, in true 21st -century style, using mass media and controversy to keep him in front of voters,” he writes.

Maybe Carson is just a different version of Trump in this sense. Lots of old political rules are being broken this year. Not all campaigns campaign alike.

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