Carson suggests campaign shake-up is coming

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Carson Suggests Campaign Shake-Up Is Coming

UPPERCO, Md. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Wednesday morning he is moving toward a major shake-up of his struggling campaign, with less than six weeks to go until early voting begins to select party nominees.

SEE ALSO: Ben Carson considering independent bid

Yet by Wednesday evening, he tried to steer away from that message, announcing that all is well in the Carson camp.

In a Wednesday morning interview with the Associated Press at his Maryland home — conducted without the knowledge of his own campaign manager — Carson said "personnel changes" could be coming, suggesting he would consider sidelining his top aides.

"Everything. Everything is on the table," he said of potential changes. "Every single thing is on the table. I'm looking carefully."

Carson's longtime business adviser Armstrong Williams put it more bluntly: "Dr. Carson is back in charge, and I'm so happy to see that," he said. Williams himself has publicly feuded with the paid political professionals brought in to run Carson's campaign.

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Carson suggests campaign shake-up is coming
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson gestures while speaking during a town hall at Abundant Life Ministries in Jefferson, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
MT. AYR, IA - JANUARY 22 : Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is introduced during his 'Trust in God Townhall' campaign stop January 22, 2016 in Mt. Ayr, Iowa. Carson, who is seeking the nomination from the Republican Party is on the presidential campaign trail across Iowa ahead of the Iowa Caucus taking place February 1. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson walks through the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, after holding a town hall. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson smiles during an interview with The Associated Press in his home in Upperco, Md., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during a campaign event at Cobb Energy Center Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Republican presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson speaks during a town hall meeting at Winthrop University on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in Rock Hill, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks at a rally Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a Liberty University Convocation in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. As retired neurosurgeon Carson has risen in the polls, media reports have revisited his accounts of acts of violence as a child, a key part of the redemption story he discusses on the campaign trail. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 06: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks to the media before speaking at a gala for the Black Republican Caucus of South Florida at PGA National Resort on November 6, 2015 in Palm Beach, Florida. Carson has come under media scrutiny for possibly exaggerating his background and other statements he has made recently. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson greets well-wishers during a campaign stop, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Lakewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 16: Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson (L) eats a piece of pizza while touring the Iowa State Fair on August 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a campaign stop, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Lakewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson greets audience members after speaking at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Seven in 10 Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say Donald Trump could win the November 2016 election. That compares to 6 in 10 who say the same for retired neurosurgeon Carson, who, like Trump, has tapped into the powerful wave of anti-establishment anger defining the early phases of the 2016 contest. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
LAKEWOOD, CO - OCTOBER 29: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a news conference before a campaign event at Colorado Christian University on October 29, 2015 in Lakewood, Colorado. Ben Carson was back on the campaign trail a day after the third republican debate held at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks outside the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity at Iowa State University during a campaign stop, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, left, laughs as he wife, Candy Carson, waves to the crowd after saying a few words to the crowd supporting her husband in front of supporters Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson greets audience members following a town hall meeting, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, in Ankeny, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks at a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. Carson is promoting a book he has co-authored with his wife Candy Carson entitled 'A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties.' (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: Scenes around the the Value Voters Summit on September 25, 2015 in Washington DC. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson takes the stage at the event. Dr Carson speaks to the media after the speach. (Photos by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Attendees wait for Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, to arrive during a campaign stop at the birthplace of the Michigan Republican Party in Jackson, Michigan, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. Carson, the third candidate in the Republican race to have never held elected office, saw his numbers drop following the debate last week. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a presidential forum sponsored by Heritage Action at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Republican Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson during a speech to the Commonwealth Club public affairs forum Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a rally in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is interviewed in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson stands for a photo with a fairgoer at the Iowa State Fair Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, listens as he attends a service at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. Carson will be speaking at the Iowa State Fair, which is expected to host 18 presidential candidates and runs until Aug. 23. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks to hundreds of supporters at the Inaugural Basque Fry at Corley Ranch in Gardnerville, Nev. on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Lance Iversen)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson participates in the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, July 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, right, speaks with pollster Frank Luntz at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, July 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, eats a slice of pizza as he tours the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. In a Sunday interview with Fox News, Carson doubled down on his assertion that a speech given by President Barack Obama intended to sell the American public on his nuclear deal with Iran contained 'coded innuendos employing standard anti-Semitic themes.' Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at the National Sheriffs’ Association presidential forum, Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson is greeted by supporters during a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Saturday, June 6, 2015, in Boone, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul, left, talks with Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson during the Iowa Republican Party's Lincoln Dinner, Saturday, May 16, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson speaks at Manchester Community College, Sunday, May 10, 2015, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks in town hall meeting in Baltimore Md., Thursday May 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Ben Carson announces his candidacy for president during an official announcement in Detroit, Monday, May 4, 2015. Carson, 63, a retired neurosurgeon, begins the Republican primary as an underdog in a campaign expected to feature several seasoned politicians. (Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Following an afternoon meeting with some of his paid advisers Wednesday — a group that did not include Williams — Carson said in a statement that while he has 100 percent confidence in his campaign team, "we are refining some operational practices and streamlining some staff assignments to more aptly match the tasks ahead."

The statement added that his senior team "remains in place with my full confidence, and they will continue to execute our campaign plan."

Campaign manager Barry Bennett was not aware of Carson's statements about potential changes until told by The Associated Press. He later texted: "No staff shake-up."

The apparent rift between Carson, Williams and the paid campaign staff comes after his weeks-long slide in polls. The political newcomer — a celebrated pediatric neurosurgeon — briefly surged to the top of the GOP field in October, riding public appeal for more anti-establishment candidates, while making headway with Christian and conservative voters.

With the spotlight came scrutiny. Carson publicly lashed out at media reports questioning details of his celebrated autobiography.

Terrorist attacks in Paris and California shifted the focus of the race to foreign policy and national security, sometimes highlighting Carson's lack of experience. Another challenge: He is soft-spoken in a race dominated by media-savvy, tough-talking figures including real estate mogul Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

"I certainly don't expect to get through a campaign without some scratches and bruises," Carson said. "That's the nature of the beast."

Then came the internal disarray.

Carson had raised $31 million by the end of September, more than any other Republican in the race, but he's outpaced the competition on spending — mostly on fundraising costs rather than critical political infrastructure.

"I recognize that nothing is perfect," Carson said. "And, yes, we've had enormous fundraising, but that requires that you be efficient in the way you utilize the funds. And, yes, we are looking at all those things."

Carson acknowledged that some of his difficulties were of his making.

He said he must prove to voters that he is up to the challenge to be commander-in-chief.

"I think I have to directly address the issue," he said, sitting in his basement game room, where the walls around him are covered in decades' worth of accolades.

People think that "because you are soft-spoken and nice, you can't possibly be tough, you can't have the strength to deal with the incredible security problems we now face," Carson said. That "is not true, but I'm now talking about it."

In recent campaign stops, Carson has started offering more specifics on foreign policy, such as detailing how U.S-led coalition forces can work to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State group's so-called caliphate.

Carson said he plans to put emphasis on his strategy for Libya when he returns to the trail after Christmas. He maintains that too many U.S. leaders, including some of his GOP rivals, have zeroed in on the Islamic State group's activities in Iraq and Syria, while failing to acknowledge that they pose a threat beyond those borders.

"They have a global strategy," Carson said of the militant group, arguing that the U.S. must counter it.

Carson said the rough-and-tumble nature of the 2016 race has not outweighed his favorite campaign moments. "The patients," he said with a smile, explaining that he often meets former patients on the campaign trail who are eager to share their stories with him.

He recalled meeting one patient to whom he'd given a hemispherectomy — removing half the brain — as an infant. "He had graduated from college number one in his class — with half a brain," Carson said. "These are incredible stories."

Carson said a retooled campaign will not involve personal attacks on his Republican rivals, though he said he will look to place greater emphasis on their differences in policy and experience. He repeated his pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee if he does not win the nomination, explaining he'd respect the voters' wishes.

Besides, Carson said, he likes his opponents — including bombastic Trump.

"There isn't anybody there who is unpleasant," Carson said. As an example, he noted that Trump had complimented him during the most recent GOP debate in Las Vegas.

"Then he came up to me during the break," Carson recalled, "and said, 'I really meant it.'"

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Follow Julie Bykowicz on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/bykowicz and Bill Barrow at http://twitter.com/billbarrowAP

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