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Carson Surging in Iowa, Tied with Trump at Top of New Poll

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has moved into a tie for first place with Donald Trump in a new poll of Iowa Republican caucusgoers released on Monday.

In the Monmouth University Poll, Carson and Trump lead the pack with 23 percent. Former HP chief Carly Fiorina is next on the list at 10 percent, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has nine percent support.

Carson also has the highest favorability rating of any candidate (81 percent). That's 14 points higher than Fiorina (67 percent).

“It doesn’t surprise me. We’ve been doing the ground work. Ben’s been here and has a great message. It resonates,” Ryan Rhodes, Carson’s Iowa state director and former chairman of the Iowa Tea Party, said on Monday.

"Sometimes it’s systematically chunking away at a few points here and a few points there. It looks like catching fire, and he has caught fire…but in large part, the race has exploded in terms of people are going to look and going to see these people."

The poll is the first since last month to show Trump falling short of being a clear-cut frontrunner in the key early state.

“I think Trump has done a good thing by stirring everybody up and making the average American believe that there are other people who have the ability to be in power, thinking the same way we are. But he doesn’t necessarily have the finesse,” Sandy Lange, 75, of Coon Rapids, Iowa, said.

Lange’s likely alternative: Ben Carson.

“I like his demeanor,” Lange said. "I think Trump is acting like a spoiled child, and he needs to stop that.”

The difference in outreach styles between Carson and Trump is noted by voters across Iowa.

“What I like about Trump is that he’s not afraid to say it,” Doyle Hutzell, a retired electrical lineman in Adel, said on Monday.

"Ben Carson has a lot of great things on his mind, but I don’t know if he has the nerve to pull it off. But it’s between him and Trump right now--the two people I would vote for. So I guess it’s a good thing they’re running neck and neck.”

The Carson campaign in Iowa—with four paid staffers—is helped significantly by the super PAC supporting Carson's candidacy. Originally started as an effort to draft Carson to run, the super PAC laid early groundwork in the state--identifying supporters in all 99 counties--prior to Carson’s entrance into the race. It continues to have a strong presence at events, like the Iowa State Fair and county GOP dinners.

The campaign is determining Carson’s next trip to Iowa.

Rhodes said Carson, known to make stops from churches to food banks across the state, resonates with voters because of the nature of his campaign appearances.

“It isn't just about a campaign stop,” Rhodes said.

"It was just emblematic of what he likes to do, what he wants to do to give back. If it’s just about politics, we all lose. If it’s about saving our country, then we all win.”

Rhodes also said Carson’s gradual rise in the polls should be partly attributed to his position of not attacking other candidates in the field.

“A lot of people focus on attacking the frontrunner, attacking the other candidates. People do want the outsider and want somebody to have some fight and fight Washington. But what they don’t want you to do is try to tear someone else down to do that. They want your message to come to them.”