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Dr. Ben Carson: A Prescription for Organization

Posted: January 8, 2016 | By: Sarah LeBlanc Tagged: From the Campaign Trail
Ben Carson at Northside Cafe

Ben Carson answered a few questions for an an overflow audience at Northside Cafe.

In his first meet and greet of 2016, Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson rolled into Winterset, Iowa, birthplace of John Wayne and home of the quaint Northside Café.  Several friends and I trekked to the café and joined a large line to see the presidential frontrunner – at least, that was our intention. Despite arriving half an hour early with tickets to the event, we were not allowed into the room where Carson would be speaking since it was, apparently, at capacity. The line of people still waiting, which stretched out the door, was told there may be speakers arranged in the café area so that patrons would be able to hear the candidate speak. However, speakers were not arranged and several frustrated attendees immediately left.

The inability of the Carson campaign to provide seating and space for all participants who registered for the event and held tickets sent a message of his campaign’s unpreparedness and lack of organization to attendees that translated to a disgruntled attitude among a few patrons. Local high school seniors Lucy Dougherty and Tayia Gibson, who both identify as Republicans, stuck around hoping to see Carson. Over a basket of fried cheese balls, they discussed their appreciation for Carson’s more moderate and honest position on issues when compared to other Republican candidates. 

“The reason that we’re both interested in Carson is the fact that he’s one of the candidates that seems more bipartisan,” Gibson said, comparing Carson to her interpretation of Sen. Ted Cruz’s speech at The Winterset Stage on Tuesday. 

Dougherty agreed, saying that she had hoped to hear how Carson would frame President Obama’s recent executive actions on gun control.

“It would be interesting to see if Carson takes a more moderate approach and tries to work with both sides or try to do something rather than just one extreme or the other,” Dougherty said.

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Ben Carson buttons were sold to the waiting crowd.

After waiting an hour and a half in a crowded café adorned with rustic, vintage posters and photography,
the remaining members of the audience who weren’t able to see Carson’s stump speech were ushered into a room branching off of the café which, despite being able to hold 125 people according to one of Carson’s staffers, was arranged to hold around 50 attendees. Before Carson appeared, his Iowa state director Ryan Rhodes reassured the group that despite recent shakeups in the campaign’s top staff, Carson is still going strong and now has a general on his team. This statement may have been an attempt to reassure those who have questioned Carson based on his lack of foreign policy experience. He also spun the campaign’s inability to accommodate the crowd by saying that Carson still has a high level of support in Iowa and had to host two events instead of one, going so far as to tweet a picture of the line of people who couldn’t get into the meet and greet.

When Carson finally arrived for the second time, he did touch on Obama’s recent executive actions in response to an audience member’s question and implied that he was against the president’s threatened actions, but did not elaborate on whether he would actively fight to repeal them.

“It is really the people who should be driving the agenda in the United States. It should not be an ideological president who drives the agenda,” Carson said. “The main thing that I disagree with is the use of executive orders out of order.” 

Carson went on to discuss that an executive order should be used only when Congress is not in session and something relatively urgent needs to be done, implying that he does not consider gun control as an urgent issue. Though the conversation was driven by the public’s questions, Carson’s work as a neurosurgeon was repeatedly stressed in terms of his ability to lead the nation in a new direction. When questioned on how his career as a political outsider would help him as president, Carson emphasized that experience from a wide variety of areas, including socially and academically, would assist him in the Oval Office. 

An NBC article on the event, which may have been written by a colleague of an embedded reporter we sang Happy Birthday to before Carson arrived, claimed that the audience was enthusiastic despite Carson’s slip in the polls. In our experience, we witnessed only a few soft laughs and two or three scattered rounds of applause in both of Carson’s speeches. There may have been a lot of people braving the winter weather to see the Republican candidate, but there weren’t any shouts of excitement or deafening claps as evidence of an enthusiastic crowd on Wednesday afternoon. 

Carson’s speech was geared toward assuring his supporters that he has the experience and ideas to lead the nation, despite his previous lack of political involvement. His responses to questions were diplomatic though unclear, and he made sure to comment on the youth in attendance, even posing with a couple young children for a photo op after the event.

Following Carson’s 10 minute question and answer session with the audience, his staffers had told the group that we would be able to watch his interview with Channel 13 News. Instead, Carson promptly left after taking questions and did not ask the audience to caucus or even volunteer. While there may have been a reasonable turnout among college students, high schoolers, and older attendees, there wasn’t much diversity, which is to be expected in a state that is over 90 percent white. Carson’s moderate message may be spreading across the ages, but his ability to promote turnout in less than one month will determine his success in the caucuses.

Betsy Hart, Adam Sickley, Elizabeth Stanczyk and Gaary Teow contributed to this post.