DES MOINES— The two top aides to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson resigned on Thursday, questioning the retired neurosurgeon’s readiness for the White House.
Barry Bennett and Doug Watts stepped down with less than five weeks before voters in Iowa begin the party’s nominating process with the state’s Feb. 1 caucuses.
Bennett was Carson’s campaign manager. Watts was communications director. But Bennett said Carson’s longtime business manager, Armstrong Williams, is the adviser who has the most influence on the candidate, even though Williams does not have a formal role in the campaign.
Carson is “one of the smartest men I’ve ever worked for,” Bennett said, but added that he believes Carson has become Williams’ “script reader.”
Bennett said that made it difficult to advise Carson and raised questions in his mind about what kind of president Carson would make if elected.
Williams did not immediately return a telephone message left at his Washington office.
Carson’s campaign released a statement Thursday describing staff changes as “enhancements” that “will shift the campaign into higher gear.”
The staff turmoil is the latest setback for Carson’s presidential bid, which for a brief time was atop some preference polls.
Bennett says Williams led Carson into multiple mistakes, particularly in the last two months as Carson struggled to establish foreign policy credentials amid increased voter concerns about national security.
Bennett and Watts’ decision to leave the campaign came a week after Carson told The Associated Press in an interview that he was considering a major staff shakeup, only to walk back those comments hours later, declaring that he had “full confidence” in his team.
Williams arranged for that interview without Bennett’s knowledge. Bennett said Friday those events were evidence his place in the campaign had become untenable.
Barrow reported from Gulf Shores, Alabama.
BILL BARROW, Associated Press
THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
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