Why This Unexpected GOP Candidate Is Breaking Away From the Pack

PHOTO: Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson speaks during the first Republican debate at the Quicken Loans Arena, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland.PlayJohn Minchillo/AP Photo
WATCH Ben Carson on 2016 Presidential Race

Second place in Iowa. Top three nationally. No, it’s not Jeb Bush or Scott Walker -- it’s Ben Carson.

The neurosurgeon, who has never held elected office, is emerging from the middle tier as a top contender after the first Republican debate.

Carson, the only black candidate in the 2016 presidential field, is polling at 12 percent in a national Fox News poll out Sunday and 14 percent in a CNN Iowa poll out last week -- good enough for second place in the GOP field behind only Donald Trump. Carson is in third place in a national CNN poll out Tuesday.

So, what’s behind Carson’s rise to the top tier?

The candidate is not the most eloquent in the Republican field, nor does he have the most experience or money. But in a campaign that has so far revolved around Donald Trump, Ben Carson brings to the table much of what Trump is – a Washington outsider, not a politician, authentic and genuine -- without the bombast and spectacle.

Instead, he embodies a compelling personal story -- from troubled youngster with a horrible temper to prominent neurosurgeon who became the youngest physician to ever head a major division at Johns Hopkins and the first to successfully separate Siamese twins joined at the head. And while the candidate isn’t the most charismatic on the stump, he often hits a rhythm while engaging with voters’ questions.

Carson is currently campaigning in Arizona, where he drew one of the largest crowds of the election cycle last night at the Phoenix Convention Center -- estimated at 12,000 people, according to his campaign. ABC News has not independently verified these numbers.

His campaign says his recent success is a product of the way he is aggressively reaching out to all Americans with his authenticity and speaking style.

“I think that people are just really attracted to him because he’s authentic. He plants his feet and he tells the truth,” Press Secretary Deana Bass told ABC News. “It doesn’t matter if he’s on the Southside of Chicago, in the middle of Iowa with farmers. It doesn’t matter where he is: he tells the same truth everywhere.”

So what makes Ben Carson more forthcoming and plain-spoken than the rest of the pack? He never prepares remarks. But will this change with his increased popularity and with more people watching? His campaign says no.

“I can’t imagine that would be the case. Will there be a time when he actually has prepared remarks? It’s possible. When he has a speech written out in advance? It is possible,” Bass said. “But it certainly won’t change the things that he wants to talk about, his mannerisms or his delivery style.”

And the polls show it’s working: GOP voters picked Carson as the most likable candidate in a new Fox News poll out Sunday. The neurosurgeon led the pack with 19 percent of GOP voters, with Trump close behind. When asked who was the least likable candidate, a plurality of GOP voters chose Trump. How many picked Carson? Less than one percent.

During the first GOP debate, one of Ben Carson’s main jobs was introducing himself to people who were unfamiliar with him. However, after his first question he went 38 minutes with no air time. He later redeemed himself in the final moments of the debate, talking about unity despite racial tensions.

This tweet from ABC News -- featuring a quote from Carson’s closing statement -- was the most retweeted media tweet of the first GOP debate, according to Twitter.

“When I take someone to the operating room, I’m operating on the thing that makes them who they are,” he said. “The skin doesn’t make them who they are.” He continued: Those that want to divide us, we shouldn’t let them do it.”

And his closing remarks were not prepared. “Some people think that his closing remarks [debate] were prepared. That wasn’t the case. He was waiting for his turn. The Lord kinda told him what to say. It wasn’t at all prepared,” Bass told ABC News. “His performance in the debate certainly introduced him to a larger audience. People were impressed, it was refreshing. It was really a breath of fresh air.”

Despite the minimal airtime, Carson was the second-most talked about candidate on Facebook and Twitter and was the second-most searched candidate on Google -- all behind Donald Trump -- the night of the debate.