MANCHESTER, New Hampshire – Dr. Ben Carson and his campaign accused Sen. Ted Cruz’s team of sabotaging Carson in the Iowa caucuses Monday night by encouraging Cruz supporters to tell voters at their caucus sites – incorrectly – that Carson was dropping out of the race.
“It was happening all over,” Iowa State Director Ryan Rhodes told MSNBC. “One of the precincts Candy [Carson, the candidate’s wife] walked into, she had to correct the record. She actually walked in, in Ankeny, and gave a speech about no, he’s still in the race and that’s a lie.”
Carson came in fourth place in the state’s caucuses.
Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler denied the allegations to MSNBC, but said his people did alert some supporters that Carson planned to go to Florida after the Iowa caucuses instead of campaigning. (Carson’s campaign says he is going home for just 24 hours before hitting the campaign trail on Wednesday.)
Carson told reporters earlier in the night that he planned to go to Florida for a day to get “fresh clothes” after 18 days on the campaign trail; the campaign pushed back against “false media reports” that Carson was suspending his campaign, while one prominent Cruz surrogate – Rep. Steve King – championed a CNN tweet describing Carson’s as a sign the retired pediatric neurosurgeon was getting out of the race.
“That is really quite a dirty trick,” Carson told reporters on Monday night. ”I want [my supporters] to recognize this makes me more determined than ever to keep going.”
“To have campaigns come out and send emails to their caucus speakers suggesting that Dr. Carson was doing anything but moving forward after tonight is the lowest of low in American politics,” Carson campaign manager Ed Brookover told reporters.
Carson’s state co-chair, Rob Taylor, was more blunt, saying “This is horses—t, bottom line.”
“You can bleep it out all you want, but Iowans understand,” added Taylor, who is also a state representative and chair of the ethics committee in the state legislature. He said he will be releasing an official statement Tuesday “as to the potential ethical misconduct of the Cruz campaign.”
A half dozen Iowans, many of then connected with MSNBC by the Carson campaign, told stories of being mislead about Carson’s intentions in the race.
Barb Heki, a homeschool activist and Gov. Mike Huckabee supporter who said she is friendly with nearly all the campaigns in Iowa, told MSNBC that the speakers supporting Cruz at her caucus location, Hyperion Point Country Club in Johnston, Iowa, announced that Carson was getting out of the race before several-hundred caucus-goers at her location took a vote.
“They gave their speech for Ted Cruz and said we also need to announce, and let you know, that Dr. Ben Carson has announced that he’s suspending his race for awhile after the caucuses are over,” Heki said. The Cruz supporters suggested the campaign had alerted them. Tyler denied this, saying that they’d shared the “newsworthy” news of Carson’s travel plans and that kind of communication to supporters was not unusual.
Pam Westrum was also at the caucus site with Heki and said she was “really rattled” when Cruz supporters said Carson had gotten out of the race, while Lisa Greenwood was the precinct speaker for Carson at a caucus site at Iowa State University when the Cruz speaker asked her to support the Texas senator because Carson was dropping out of the race. She said she was very confused, but caucused for Carson nonetheless.
In Waterloo, Iowa, Kim Murray said her caucus leader had told them Carson had dropped out, but did not say where she’d gotten that information; when she saw the votes tallied after the caucus afterwards, just one person had caucused for Carson.
Rita Davenport, a Carson campaign volunteer who was her precinct’s speaker in Boone, Iowa said she’d also been told by Cruz supporters that Carson was dropping out.
“Something just really crazy happened here in Iowa,” Davenport told MSNBC.
Additional reporting by Shaquille Brewster from West Des Moines, Iowa.