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Ben Carson brought to tears by donor: This is why he's surging

Carson was brought to tears while describing his donors, in a moving moment that shows precisely why the soft-spoken candidate is resonating with voters.

Dr. Ben Carson was brought to tears while describing his supporters in an emotional and unexpectedly heavy moment on the campaign trail on Tuesday, his first appearance after a week of vacation that saw his national profile rise from also-ran to consistent top tier contender.

While the GOP presidential candidate took a break last week -- itself a remarkably unusual move in modern campaigns -- America took notice of Carson: the retired neurosurgeon surged in national polling and early-state voting, rising from relative obscurity created by limited media attention, fellow front-runner Donald Trump's big shadow, and a retail politics strategy that favors face-time over airtime. 

And then he cried.

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Describing individual contributors who can't afford to write big checks, but give small amounts monthly, Carson was so overcome by emotion at an event at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club that he stopped speaking for several moments.

“Let me tell you,” Carson finally said, with his voice crackling. “I don’t want to disappoint those people and I certainly don't want to waste their money”

Carson's reaction differed markedly from that of Trump, who last month called a donor who wrote a check for $7.30 “the cutest thing ever.”

Trump has repeatedly said he doesn’t need donors’ money – he’s really, really, really rich, he’s said repeatedly -- but would like it anyway. And there's almost never silence or humble moments at Trump’s media appearances or campaign events, because the candidate rarely stops talking about how great he is to have them.

Caron's fundraising has largely been from small donors: his campaign said in early August they'd raised $10.6 million between March and August and 98% of those donations were below $200. 

"I simply said if the people want me to do this then they need to fund it and they have been doing it at record levels," Carson said.

The two candidates cannot be more different: Trump is loud and boastful where Carson is quiet and reserved. Still, they occupy a similar space as outsider candidates who vow to shake up Washington, D.C. and have inspired widespread grassroots support.

“Ben Carson may be the perfect answer to people who are sick and tired of traditional politics and the politicians that practice it, but without the pomp and arrogance of Donald Trump,” Republican strategist Rich Gallen told msnbc last week. “He’s got Jeb’s thoughtfulness and Trump’s outsiderness.”

Despite their competition and Trump's propensity for inter-party fights, he and Carson speak positively of each other – and Carson’s name is routinely tossed around as a possible vice-presidential choice for Trump.

“And last, so we can make a little bit of news," a moderator at The Commonwealth Club asked Carson. "Will you name Donald Trump as your vice president?” 

“All things are possible,” Carson said with a laugh. 

“Will you serve as his vice president?” the moderator countered.

“All things are possible,” he said again.