Trying to figure out the Ben Carson phenomenon

Trying to figure out the Ben Carson phenomenon… Does a stronger-looking Clinton provide an opening for establishment Republicans in the ’16 field?… It’s FEC Filing Day: Just how mediocre will Jeb’s number be?… In reversal, Obama to leave more U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan than originally planned… Another House Republican admits the Benghazi panel was intended to hurt Clinton… And reading more Biden tea leaves.

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Trying to figure out the Ben Carson phenomenon: On this FEC filing day, we already know Ben Carson will have raised the most money on the GOP side. He’s now running neck-and-neck with Donald Trump nationally, per a recent Fox News poll. And it all comes after a week that could have sunk a more traditional candidate (his Holocaust/guns remarks, not appearing to know the difference between the debt limit and the debt/deficit). What’s more, Carson rarely holds campaign events, and ABC even reports that he’s taking two weeks off to sell his book. Trying to explain the Ben Carson phenomenon is one of the best political stories out there.

  • Here’s Donald Trump taking a stab at it: “I think he’s a nice person,” Trump told NBC’s Katie Tur. “I don’t really know why he’s doing well. I mean, I will bring America to a new level…. Ben is– you know, that’s not his thing. But he certainly seems to be resonating.”
  • Here’s National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar: “Ben Carson is following Jimmy Carter’s presidential playbook.”

It’s been much easier to explain Donald Trump’s rise (a combination of controversy, celebrity, and pushing the immigration button) and Scott Walker’s fall (poor debate performances, a lack of hard campaign money). But explaining Carson’s rise – and staying power so far – is much, much more difficult, especially considering his lack of campaign activity and his relative lack of candidate charisma.

*** Does a stronger-looking Clinton provide an opening for the establishment Republicans? As Carson and Trump have demonstrated, the GOP outsiders are leading the Republican field. But here’s something to chew on: Does Hillary Clinton’s strong debate performance start changing things, forcing GOP primary voters to think more pragmatically about who they might want on that debate stage against her? Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the GOP outsiders have taken off at the same time as Clinton’s overall political standing took a hit. But the stronger Hillary looks, do Republican primary voters become more pragmatic?

*** It’s FEC Filing Day: Just how mediocre will Jeb’s number be? Tonight at midnight is the deadline for the campaigns to file their 3rd-quarter fundraising numbers (what they’ve raised and their cash on hand). Here is what the campaigns have told us they raised from July 1 to Sept. 30:

  • Clinton: $28M-plus ($75M-plus for campaign)
  • Sanders: $26M-plus ($41M-plus for campaign)
  • Carson: $20M-plus ($30M-plus for campaign)
  • Bush: Between $12M and $20M (raised $11.4 million last quarter)
  • Fiorina: $6.8M ($8.5M for campaign)
  • Rubio: $6M (about $18M for campaign)
  • Paul: $2.5M ($9.4M for campaign)

 But here’s who we don’t have numbers from: O’Malley, Chafee and Webb on the Dem side, and Trump, Kasich, Huckabee, Christie, and others on the GOP side. And, of course, all we have for Jeb Bush is that ballpark estimate (between $12 million and $20 million). Is his number going to be disappointing? Well, NBC’s Jordan Frasier says that the Bush campaign today ALSO will be releasing its bundlers, Jeb’s 2014 tax return, and his health record. And that has us wondering: Are all of these disclosures to mask the campaign’s 3rd-quarter haul? We’ll find out…

*** In reversal, Obama to leave more U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan than originally planned: Per NBC’s Kristen Welker, President Obama today will announce that he will maintain a presence of 5,500 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2016 – higher than then 1,000 he hoped to leave there. There are currently 9,800 U.S. troops in the country. What we can tell you: Obama has been telegraphing this move for months, and it wasn’t an easy decision for him, knowing the president’s resistance to wanting to leave a significant troop presence for his successor.  More from The New York Times: “In abandoning his ambition to bring home almost all American troops before leaving office, Mr. Obama appears to be acknowledging that Afghan security forces are still not near ready to hold off the Taliban on their own.”

*** Another House Republican admits the Benghazi panel was intended to hurt Clinton: The hits keep on coming for the House GOP – and the breaks keep coming for Hillary Clinton. Per MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald: “In an interview with WIBX 950 in New York on Wednesday, moderate Republican Rep. Richard Hanna said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was speaking the truth when he said this month that the committee had successfully injured Clinton. ‘Sometimes the biggest sin you can commit in D.C. is to tell the truth,’ Hanna told the upstate New York radio station. ‘This may not be politically correct, but I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton.’” The Clinton campaign, not surprisingly, pounced on the news: “House Republicans aren’t even shy anymore about admitting that the Benghazi Committee is a partisan farce,” spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement. “Hillary Clinton will still attend next week’s hearing, but at this point, Trey Gowdy’s inquiry has zero credibility left.”

*** Reading more Biden tea leaves: Well, Joe Biden’s brother is now even weighing in on the vice president’s decision about 2016, saying that events like Tuesday night’s debate won’t influence Biden. “Everybody is trying to make hay out of the idea that Joe’s decision is based on something other than an internal barometer, but that’s simply not true,” Frank Biden told The Palm Beach Post. “It’s all about the dialogue between his head and his heart.” But if the “longtime Biden friend” who emailed POLITICO is really that close to Biden, then it looks like Biden World might be setting the table for no. “Anyone who knows the man even a little bit understands how much he’d like to be president. The problem is democracy and elections. He wants it by acclamation, and can’t understand why the American people have not risen up as one to insist he take the job, as he surely is the most qualified and talented by far. Again, he is hardly the only politician to view his own abilities in such an unmatched light. But when he declares that he will not run, it will turn out to have been no more real than it was a dozen years ago.”

*** On the trail: Clinton stumps in San Antonio, TX, where she picks up the endorsement from HUD Secretary Julian Castro… Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum campaign in Iowa… Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and George Pataki are in New Hampshire… Ben Carson raises money in Georgia… And Marco Rubio is in Pennsylvania.

OBAMA AGENDA: Keeping 5,500 troops in Afghanistan into 2017

“President Barack Obama plans to keep 5,500 U.S. troops across Afghanistan into 2017, senior administration officials told NBC News — well more than the small security force he promised last year.”

Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to the Middle East soon amid rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Writes The Wall Street Journal: “The chances of a Federal Reserve interest-rate increase in 2015 are diminishing amid new signs of anemic economic activity, a disappointing development for central bank officials who have been hoping to move this year after a prolonged period of easy-money policies.”

CONGRESS: Boehner hoping to take a debt-limit fight off the table?

John Boehner is hoping to move a debt ceiling bill before he leaves Congress, POLITICO writes.

Roll Call looks at the people not named Paul Ryan who say they’re thinking about House Speaker bids.

The Wall Street Journal with a reminder: Congress still hasn’t figured out a way to avoid a big premium increase for Medicare recipients for 2016.

OFF TO THE RACES: The politics of gun control

The Washington Post reports on how, after years of hesitation, gun control has been thrust into the spotlight in the Democratic primary.

New CNN polling: “Donald Trump holds double-digit leads over Ben Carson in both South Carolina and Nevada, the third and fourth states scheduled to hold nominating contests in next year’s race for the presidency, with Trump widely seen in each state as the best candidate to handle a range of top issues, according to new CNN/ORC polls.”

BIDEN: The Wall Street Journal gives a good summary of Democrats’ weariness with Joe Biden’s indecision.

BUSH: NBC’s Jordan Frasier reports that we’ll get Bush’s third quarter FEC report, his health records, a year of his tax returns and a list of bundlers today.

And/but: The Wall Street Journal notes that some are criticizing Bush’s low threshold to define “bundler,” which could mask his biggest contributors.

Setting the stage for the cash on hand number… POLITICO reports that his team is tightening its belt and running a more modest operation on the road.

CLINTON: From NBC’s Hill team: “The House Select Committee on Benghazi will interview top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Adebin behind closed doors on Friday, sources familiar with the committee told NBC News Wednesday evening. The interview comes just days before Hillary Clinton is scheduled to testify before the committee herself during a public hearing on October 22.”

The reviews for her debate performance in Iowa were positive, writes The New York Times.

A second Republican has said that the Benghazi committee “was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton.”

CRUZ: He’s got $13.5 million cash on hand - putting him close to or at the top of the GOP field.

PAUL: From Vaughn Hillyard: “Rand Paul on Wednesday dismissed the need for employment protections for members of the LGBT community, saying there “plenty of places” that will hire gay people and that their sexual identity is best kept out of the workplace.

Ron Paul testified in the corruption trial of his former aides and said that prosecutors are trying to hurt his son’s campaign.

RUBIO: He’s courting Scott Walker’s former donors, writes The Wall Street Journal.

SANDERS: He appeared on “Ellen – and yes, he danced.

TRUMP: His supporters sparred with protestors at a rally in Richmond.

His team is claiming that they have 1,000 endorsements in New Hampshire.

Yahoo looks at his record of working with women in the real estate business.

—NBC News’ Carrie Dann contributed to this article. 

Ben Carson, FEC, House Republicans, Jeb Bush and Money

Trying to figure out the Ben Carson phenomenon