Ben Carson’s Talking Big, Spending Big and Planning a Big Campaign

Despite scaling down campaign activities for his book tour, Ben Carson again made headlines this weekend for a series of controversial comments concerning Osama bin Laden and who bears responsibility for the attacks on 9/11.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Carson gave Donald Trump a pass on his remarks suggesting George W. Bush bears some of the blame for the attacks on 9/11.

“I would probably ask him what he meant by that. I seriously doubt that he's saying that — that George W. Bush is to blame for it,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

And in comments to NBC News on Friday, Carson said it would be “ridiculous” to suggest Bush bears any blame for the attacks.

On Sunday, he also struggled to explain his own proposal for responding to the attacks. During the last GOP debate, Carson suggested threatening petroleum independence would’ve encouraged encouraged moderate Arab states to give up Osama bin Laden.

Image: GOP Presidential Candidate Ben Carson Campaigns In Alexandria, Virginia
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson answers questions from members of the press after delivering brief remarks to supporters at the King Street Retail Walk October 16, 2015 in Alexandria, Virginia. Win McNamee / Getty Images

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos noted that bin Laden wasn’t receiving safe harbor from those moderate governments, but Carson disagreed.

“You may not think that they had any loyalty to him, but I believe otherwise,” he said.

The comments come even as Carson posted two big wins last week — a mammoth $20.7 million raised in the third quarter, the most of any GOP candidate in the field, and a successful effort, along with Donald Trump, to get CNBC to commit to his requests concerning the format of the upcoming debate.

Carson last week also became the first candidate to get on the ballot in the Northern Mariana Islands, Virgin Islands and Alabama. The play for U.S. territories is part of what Carson’s aides say is a "56-jurisdiction strategy" that will get them on the ballot in all fifty states plus the six U.S. territories that send delegates to the Republican National Convention.

They’re big plans for an outsider candidate like Carson, who’s never run for public office before. But there remains the risk for Carson that his penchant for big spending and tendency toward big gaffes could undermine the execution of those big plans.

The $20.7 million Carson raised this quarter is all the more notable because it came largely from small-dollar donors, with the average contribution of just $30. But the campaign spent nearly 70 percent of that, over $14.2 million, the majority of that — $11.2 million — going towards fundraising costs.

A breakdown in spending provided by the campaign shows Carson’s campaign spent over $2.6 million on “direct mail prospecting” alone, a highly lucrative but expensive form of fundraising.

Carson’s Communications Director Doug Watts said they see the high fundraising expenses as a “strategic investment” because they’ve helped the campaign build its contact file to over 2 million people, all of whom have given their personal information and are viable opportunities for fundraising.

And the campaign expects that expenditure to decrease every quarter; Carson’s fundraising costs are down from 64 cents per dollar last quarter to 53 cents this quarter.

For now, Carson looks to be in a much more comfortable position than many of his rivals — he ended the quarter with over $11.2 million cash on hand.

And this quarter, he has his publisher shouldering some of that burden as he ramps down campaign activities to spend time touring the country and promoting his book, “A More Perfect Union.”

Penguin books will pay to shuttle Carson around the country for the tour, and though his publisher is legally barred from coordinating with the campaign, a Penguin spokeswoman acknowledged that Carson, like any of their authors, can use whatever downtime he does have during the tour however he sees fit. That means Carson can use his downtime for fundraisers in key primary states during the tour — even though his travel and lodging will be paid for by the publisher.

His campaign said they don’t know exactly where he’ll be for the tour until his stops are made public, but serendipitously, the tour is taking him through a number of key early primary states where anything raising his profile could help.