For Ben Carson, Voters See Lack of Fire as a Big Problem

Damon Jackson, 39, (right) and Abby Rodewald, 27, at a debate watch party hosted by the Des Moines Young Professionals Connection on Wednesday.
Damon Jackson, 39, (right) and Abby Rodewald, 27, at a debate watch party hosted by the Des Moines Young Professionals Connection on Wednesday.

Carly Fiorina hit a walk-off homer, helium is leaking from Ben Carson’s balloon and Scott Walker’s candidacy is on life support, according to the Republicans in Iowa who will cast the first votes of the nominating contest in less than five months.

Oh, and Donald J. Trump is still Donald J. Trump — what did you expect?

A sampling of a dozen Iowans on Thursday who watched the second Republican debate — all of them close followers of the presidential race who are uncommitted — did not vary from the emerging national consensus about Mrs. Fiorina’s performance.

Perhaps the most surprising reaction was a feeling that Mr. Carson, who was on the heels of Mr. Trump in recent Iowa polls, did himself few favors on Wednesday by refusing to confront Mr. Trump, even on a medical issue like the purported link between vaccines and autism.

“Carson’s demeanor is beginning to make him look weak,” said Mary Whisenand, an insurance executive in Des Moines. “It isn’t that I think every presidential candidate needs to get out there and do hellfire and brimstone, but the optics are starting to work against him.”

Others said Mr. Carson’s responses on policy issues, particularly national security, sounded mushy. John Wills, an Army veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that Mr. Carson was someone he had considered campaigning for. But no longer. He criticized Mr. Carson for his response to the question of what he would have done after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “There are smart ways to do things and there are muscular ways to do things,” Mr. Carson said.

“I don’t know what that means,” said Mr. Wills, who was elected last year to the Iowa House in District 1, in the conservative northwest corner of the state. “If somebody attacks us and we respond by saying we’re going to use smart power, we put ourselves into a position of being not understood and taken seriously.”

Mark A. Hanson, a supervisor for Dallas County, watched the debate with 100 supporters of Mr. Trump at a barbecue restaurant in West Des Moines. A Republican activist, Mr. Hanson said the Trump crowd seemed largely new to politics, and he wondered if many would show up to caucus in February, a typically low-turnout event that draws party stalwarts. Interest in watching the debate, he said, faded after 20 minutes. “At the very beginning there was interest, but as the night went on they became very disinterested,” he said.

Tim Recker, a farmer in northeast Iowa, said he had been “really liking Trump.” But on Thursday he was questioning if Mr. Trump’s trade policies, including suggestions of raising tariffs on imported goods, would hurt agriculture exports.

“He made a comment about, We’re taking their stuff and giving beef back and they don’t even want it,” Mr. Recker said. “That’s not true. They love our beef.”

Mr. Recker, who farms 1,600 acres of corn and soybeans in Arlington, close to the border with Wisconsin, said that Mr. Walker, the Wisconsin governor who once led Iowa polls but was in 10th place in a Quinnipiac University survey last week, left him feeling indifferent.

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Source: The New York Times | TRIP GABRIEL

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