Carson suggests campaign shake-up is coming

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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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
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
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)
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
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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.

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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