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Mitch Perry Report for 11.4.15 – Figuring out Ben Carson

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A friend of mine asked me Tuesday night whether Ben Carson is doing any fundraising in Tampa. It would certainly make sense if he were since the GOP presidential front-runner (in some polls) is spending this week in Florida on a book-selling tour.

There’s no indication, though, that such an event is planned. Carson is running a campaign doing not what you’d expect him to be doing, yet it’s all working right now for the 63-year-old retired pediatric neurosurgeon.

A crowd estimated at more than 1,500 waited hours in the sun for hours at the Barnes and Noble Carrollwood bookstore on Tuesday, all for the chance to spend about 15 seconds watching Carson scrawl his signature on a copy of their newly purchased Carson tome,  “A More Perfect Union.”

But is it more about Ben’s branding, and less about him seriously becoming the next commander-in-chief, or even the Republican Party nominee for president?

If you listen to all the folks who waited for hours to get Carson’s book Tuesday, they weren’t talking about any of his policies as to why they’re so taken by the man. No, they talk about how he’s not “P.C.” That he tells it like it is. Though they don’t say specifically what actual comments prompt such a response, you might recall how he questioned whether a Muslim should be elected president a few weeks ago. It was a return to the dubious statements that marred his original entrance into the race. Stuff like comparing Obamacare to Nazi Germany.

Donald Trump has stayed more in bounds in terms of his rhetoric, except that he too has ventured into “birtherism,” and comments about Mexicans crossing the border into the U.S. being rapists certainly catapulted him in the polls. Both candidates’ supporters have spoken about their lack of concern about being “politically correct.”

The difference? Carson is nicer, and doesn’t crack personally on his opponents, which Trump has made an art. At least that what his supporters say.

In a story posted Tuesday by New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, the journalist poses the question: Is Carson just trolling all of us?

Carson is doing a lot of things that seem puzzling for a presidential campaign, but quite logical for a brand-building exercise. He is taking weeks off the campaign trail to go on a book tour. His campaign itself is structured much more like a scamming venture than a political one. An astronomical 69 percent of his fund-raising totals are spent on more fund-raising. (Bernie Sanders, by contrast, spends just 4 percent of his intake on fund-raising.) In addition to direct mail, Carson seems to have undertaken a massive phone-spamming operation. Spending most of your money to raise more money is not a good way to get elected president, but it is a good way to build a massive list of supporters that can later be monetized. Perhaps it is a giveaway that the official title for Armstrong Williams, the figure running the Carson “campaign,” is “business manager,” as opposed to “campaign manager.” It does suggests that Carson is engaged in a for-profit venture.

There’s no doubt that his supporters believe in him. This past May,  I attended a meet up at a small East Tampa hotel put together by Run, Ben Run, his super PAC, where I learned about some of the people who were totally behind him, all based on knowing his life story via his autobiography, “Gifted Hands” (or seeing the TV biopic starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.).

You can read that story here.

So yes, the Ben Carson phenomenon is very real. Whether he’s actually going to become close to being our next president? Not so real at this time.

In other news …

The Florida Democratic Party is introducing its “Municipal Victory Project” which they hope can turn some GOP seats blue in 2016.

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In a pitch to supporters, Alan Grayson accuses David Jolly of wanting to “dismantle” the VA. A closer listen to a radio interview conducted last week indicates that may be an unfair charge.

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A University of North Carolina demographer predicts Florida will gain an extra seat in Congress after the next U.S. Census in 2020.

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Eric Lynn received the endorsements of two more Pinellas County Democratic mayors yesterday in his race against Charlie Crist for the Democratic primary in CD 13.

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A USF-based group getting paid to conduct workshops with members of the Tampa community upset about the Tampa Bay Express project held its first meeting on Monday night.

• • •

Donald Trump leads Ben Carson by 20 points here in a new Florida poll. March Rubio is right behind Carson, and you don’t want to know where Jeb Bush lands in this survey.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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