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Tales From the Trail: Has the Music Died for the Carson Campaign?

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Carson’s staff departures may end the music

The resignation of Ben Carson's national finance chairman Thursday was significant for many reasons. This was not only a high-profile figure on the road and in Carson's donor circles, but it also reflected yet another senior level departure in the struggling campaign.

However, for Carson supporters attending his events, Dean Parker's departure may have a more direct impact-- as it throws into doubt the existence of the popular "Carson America Singers."

Embed Report: Ben Carson Faces Shifting Winds 2:37

Let me explain. Dean Parker's wife, Joanne, was one of the three people who would sing alongside Dr. Carson's wife, Candy Carson. "Candy Carson and the Carson America Singers," performed at the beginning of many events. The campaigns held a musical Christmas celebration and went Christmas caroling in the week before the holiday. The group even 'dropped' a Christmas album that was handed out to supporters at events in December, called 'A Very Candy Christmas.'

Although we have seen-- on numerous occasions-- Candy Carson's willingness and ability to perform solo at her husband's events, the resignation of the national finance chair puts into doubt the future of the "Carson America Singers."

We will keep a look out for them has Dr. Carson campaigns in Iowa Saturday and South Carolina on Monday.

-- Shaquille Brewster following the Carson campaign

Game day in South Carolina

Charleston, S.C. -- The site of presidential debates is like a church congregation on Sundays.

The media. The candidates. The staffs. The RNC or DNC representatives. The local elected officials.

While covering a campaign on the road, journalists and campaign staffs may sometimes run into colleagues if multiple candidates happen to appear in the same town, like often Des Moines or Manchester, on any given day.

But it’s the debates where you’re reliably able to have a political potluck.

You’re able to walk into a Charleston coffee shop and see a GOP official from Iowa that flew into town along with an adviser for one of the campaigns.

Candidates or Comedians? See Funny Moments from the GOP Debate 1:28

You walk into a hotel and the Republican National Committee is holding its winter meeting.

NBC and Fox News happened to congregate for dinner on Wednesday night at the same restaurant.

And while taking a walk, this reporter overhears a campaign aide asking someone whether South Carolina is the third voting state. (A bit late to be figuring that out.)

And on the airplane coming into and out of town, the planes are full – with people connected to this political process.

What does the hype feel like? A college bowl game. Growing up in Arizona and around the Fiesta Bowl, the state puts on a literal parade for the arriving teams and plasters the region with signage and commercials promoting the big game.

In Des Moines at the beginning of the month, the city hung banners welcoming the media and campaigns from its light poles. And of course, there’s the commercials promoting the opposing campaigns.

These states are the Republican and Democratic parties’ bowl games.

Football lover Marco Rubio would like this analogy.

-- Vaughn Hillyard covering last night’s GOP debate

Carson’s Founding Fathers endorsement?

Charleston, S.C. — Ben Carson announced the endorsements of three game-changing political icons here on Friday: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Or at least, Carson assumed if the three storied American presidents were still around, they'd likely back him.

The idea came from a questioner at a brief meet-and-greet he held at a diner in downtown Charleston. "You should have an ad," she suggested, "that shows three actors — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and perhaps Abraham Lincoln — endorsing you."

The crowd laughed at the idea, and Carson laughed along with them, before agreeing with it.

"That's a good idea," he said. "You know, my suspicion is that they probably would if they were around."

They'd certainly add significant clout to a campaign in need of a shot in the arm, following an exodus of staff over the past few weeks — most recently, Carson's finance chairman stepped down amidst controversy. And Carson could make the case that his call for a return to the "Judeo-Christian values" that he says the country was founded on would be a clear point of agreement among the former presidents.

Unfortunately, America will never know how any of its past presidents feel about Carson, living or dead, as even those still around have tried to stay above the fray and out of the White House race as much as possible. Even President Obama, whom Carson has called a "psychopath," has avoided hitting back, only raising doubts about his understanding of foreign policy issues.

-- Alex Jaffe covering last night’s GOP debate

The problem with backing a long-shot

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — A lesson for journalists, campaigns and volunteers alike in Iowa near caucus time: You never know who is listening.

As caucus night approaches, journalists flock to the Hawkeye State, making them almost omnipresent in local cafés, bars, and restaurants.

They can often be identified by the bags under their eyes, the cameras under their chairs, and the furious typing on their laptops as they hold their cellphones between their ears and shoulders listening intently for a sound byte. Yet at least one ear is always on the room.

A woman—a supporter of one of the three Democratic candidates—walked into a café from the cold one Monday and sat down at a table in front of a reporter. She pulled out her phone. She began making calls, convincing neighbors, friends, and other Democrats to come to her candidate's event in the coming days.

The woman was making calls from a pre-determined list.

“I was just calling to see if you would be interested in seeing [my candidate] this Friday?” she said aloud into the phone.

A pause, and then a sigh.

“[To be honest] I don’t know if [my candidate] is really serious about this,” she openly admitted to the person on the call, "or if [my candidate] is just trying to get the name out there."

The woman continued to expand upon her frustrations with the candidate's campaign, saying that they do not “communicate with me well.” She noted that rival camps solicit her on the phone or at her home constantly compared to her own team.

She then railed on a public national mishap made by the campaign (in her mind) in the same breath as she tried to encourage potential supporters to back the candidate.

Finally, after just a few more calls off of her list— and similar frustrations -- she left, unaware that the only other patron in the room surrounded a tripod, camera and laptop was a reporter.

These types of interactions, though small, happen often and can cast a shadow on a campaign, when all the candidates desperately need positivity and momentum.

With just over two weeks into the caucuses, you never know who is listening in Iowa.

-- Danny Freeman covering the Iowa caucuses