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Empty seats highlight Carson's lost momentum

Just six days before the caucuses, the doctor's audience has disappeared.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during his "Trust in God" town hall event Jan. 24, 2016 in Marshalltown, Iowa. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during his "Trust in God" town hall event Jan. 24, 2016 in Marshalltown, Iowa.

DES MOINES, Iowa — In early January, Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign events were so well attended the Republican presidential candidate would give multiple town halls at each stop on the trail to accommodate hundreds of fans.

But just two weeks later and six days before the caucuses, the momentum is gone: At an event in Des Moines with precisely the same start-time as Monday’s caucuses, a staffer asked voters to fill in the audience so a television interview before the event wouldn’t show empty chairs. Much of the usual national media was absent and the Secret Service seemed out of place without the hours-long lines and throngs of fans that marked the last few months of his campaign. But most telling of all was more than 150 vacant seats in a church that could fit more than 500.

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Carson’s poll numbers have dipped rapidly since his onetime frontrunner peak in November; he’s down 15 points according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, largely thanks to the race’s newfound focus on national security.

Still, big crowds and evangelicals support had bolstered the candidate in the final weeks, with staff and the candidate himself boasting of a reinvigorated campaign after a staffing shakeup just before the New Year. The campaign began rolling out new ads, and branding his campaign events “Revive 714” – Church-like events featuring Christian celebrities like Kirk Cameron and televangelist David Jeremiah drew big crowds.

But on Tuesday, the picture looked less rosy: after weeks courting national evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr., the Liberty University president and preacher endorsed Donald Trump, while Sen. Ted Cruz scored the endorsement of another evangelical luminary, Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. 

Carson dismissed the lost endorsements Tuesday, saying the only endorsement he was looking "is the endorsement of we the people."

"I suspect the day after the Iowa cacuses, there will be some very surprised commentators," Carson told reporters after the event.