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US Politics : Ben Carson heads into Republican debate as Iowa front-runner

Ben Carson heads into Republican debate as Iowa front-runner.

The Republican candidates for president will gather Wednesday for their third
debate amid fresh volatility in an already chaotic race, with retired
neurosurgeon Ben Carson surging past billionaire Donald Trump in early Iowa
voting and one-time front-runner Jeb Bush under pressure to prove he's still a
viable candidate for the Republican nomination.

The soft-spoken Carson has been a low-key presence in the first two
Republican debates, but he is likely to get more attention from moderators — as
well as his fellow candidates — after a series of preference polls show him atop
the field in Iowa, whose caucuses kick off next year's state-by-state nominating

Trump has already shown he's eager to take on Carson, jabbing him for his
speaking style and raising questions about his Seventh Day Adventist faith.

"We'll see how Ben holds up to the scrutiny," Trump said Tuesday on MSNBC.

Meanwhile, Bush will be grasping for momentum after one of the most trying
stretches of his White House campaign. Slower-than-expected fundraising has led
Bush to slash spending and overhaul his campaign structure, and he's voiced
frustration with the way the unusual race has progressed.

If the election is going to be about fighting to get nothing done, Bush said,
"I don't want any part of it."

There will be 10 candidates on stage in the prime-time debate in Boulder,
Colo., all seeking a share of a smaller spotlight: this debate on CNBC will run
for only two hours after the last affair went on for more than three.

 Experience as Florida governor and the Bush name haven't
ignited the Jeb Bush candidacy, with the high-profile candidate forced to trim
expenses and payroll recently. (David Becker/Getty Images)

Among them, two senators — Florida's Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz of Texas. Rubio
has sought to capitalize on Bush's stumbles, but faces his own financial
concerns. Cruz is positioning himself to inherit Trump's supporters if the real
estate mogul's campaign collapses.

Taken together, it's a Republican field that remains crowded and unwieldy
three months before the lead-off Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. The
political outsiders appealing to voter anger with Washington have ceded no
ground and establishment politicians are still waiting for the race to turn
their way — and increasingly wondering if it ever will.

Trump remains the dominant force, commanding media attention, drawing large
crowds and leading in most early voting states. But his dip in Iowa has prompted
some speculation among Republicans that the tide could be turning against the
bombastic billionaire.

While Carson is unknown to many Americans, he's built a loyal following with
tea party-aligned voters and religious conservatives. His campaign has started
running new television advertisements in early voting states that center on his
experience as a doctor and highlight his status as a political outsider.

Carson has raised eyebrows with his incendiary comments about Muslims and 
references to Nazis and slavery on the campaign trail, rhetoric he's made no
apologies for. His standing in early states has only appeared to strengthen with
each controversial comment.

Carson's biggest weakness may be his glaring lack of specific policy
proposals. The issues listed on his campaign website are vague, including a tax
plan that calls for a "fairer, simpler, and more equitable" system. On foreign
policy, he's said, "all options should remain on the table when dealing with
international bullies," such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Carson could be pushed Wednesday on domestic policy, with debate host CNBC
promising to focus on economic issues, including taxes and job growth.

 With a second consecutive strong debate performance,
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina could boost her grass roots
support in Iowa. (Cherly Senter/The Associated Press)

Policy discussions are usually a welcome refuge for Bush, the wonky former
Florida governor. But his challenge Wednesday is less about highlighting his
mastery of the issues and more about showing his supporters he has the
temperament to fight through a long and grueling primary.

Also on stage Wednesday for the main debate will be Ohio Gov. John Kasich,
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky
Sen. Rand Paul and former technology executive Carly Fiorina.

Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, earned strong reviews for her
performance at the last debate, but her organization has not been able to
capitalize on the positive media coverage in terms of poll numbers. In the five
most recent Iowa polls, she is fifth or sixth, behind the likes of Bush, Rubio
and the Canadian-born Cruz.

The four lowest-polling candidates will participate in an earlier undercard
event: South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick
Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former New York Gov. George Pataki.  
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