By JULIE BYKOWICZ and BILL BARROW/Associated Press
UPPERCO, Md. (AP) – Republican presidential candidate and Michigan native Ben Carson said Wednesday he is moving toward a major shake-up of his struggling campaign, with just six weeks to go until early voting begins to select party nominees.
In an interview with the Associated Press at his Maryland home – conducted without the knowledge of his own campaign manager – Carson said “personnel changes” could be coming, suggesting he is about to sideline his top aides.
“Everything. Everything is on the table,” he said of the potential changes. “Every single thing is on the table. I’m looking carefully.”
Carson’s longtime business adviser Armstrong Williams put more bluntly: “Dr. Carson is back in charge, and I’m so happy to see that,” he said. Williams himself has publicly feuded with the paid political professionals brought in to run Carson’s campaign.
Campaign manager Barry Bennett declined to make any immediate comment when told of Carson’s remarks. “I’m getting ready to have a conversation with him. Why don’t I have that conversation and call you back.”
The apparent rift between the candidate and his political team comes after his weeks-long slide in preference polls. The political newcomer -a celebrated retired neurosurgeon – briefly surged to the top of the GOP field in October, riding public appeal for more anti-establishment candidates, while making headway with Christian and conservative voters.
Since then, terrorist attacks in Paris and California have shifted the focus of the race to foreign policy and national security, issues Carson had not initially prioritized as part of his campaign platform. Another challenge: He is soft-spoken in a race dominated by tough-talking figures including real estate mogul Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Then there is the internal disarray. Carson had raised $31 million by the end of September, more than any other Republican in the race, but he’s outpaced the competition on spending – mostly on fundraising costs rather than critical political infrastructure.
“I recognize that nothing is perfect,” Carson said. “And, yes, we’ve had enormous fundraising, but that requires that you be efficient in the way you utilize the funds. And, yes, we are looking at all those things.”
Carson acknowledged that some of his difficulties were of his making.
He said he must prove to voters that he is his tough and seasoned enough to be commander-in-chief.
“I think I have to directly address the issue,” he said, sitting in his basement game room, where the walls around him are covered in decades’ worth of accolades.
“The issue that has been put out is that because you are soft-spoken and nice you can’t possibly be tough, you can’t have the strength to deal with the incredible security problems we now face,” Carson said. He added that interpretation “is not true, but I’m now talking about it.”
In recent campaign stops, Carson has started talking more specifically about foreign policy, such as detailing how U.S-led coalition forces can work to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State group’s so-called caliphate.
Carson said he plans to announce a more specific strategy when he returns to the trail after Christmas, previewing his plan for Libya. He maintains that too many U.S. leaders, including some of his campaign rivals, have zeroed in on the Islamic State group’s activities in Iraq and Syria, while failing to acknowledge they pose a threat beyond those borders.
“They have a global strategy,” Carson said, arguing that the U.S. must match it.
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