Ben Carson on why he's dropped in polls

Story highlights

  • "I know plenty about foreign policy, and about national security. Probably a lot more than most of the other people running," Carson said
  • Recently renewed focus on terrorism has not been good for Carson

(CNN)In the fall, Ben Carson was riding high in the polls: Enjoying 27% support in Iowa and 17% in New Hampshire. But just a few months later, it's a very different race. Today, the retired neurosurgeon has fallen to 11% in Iowa and just 3% in New Hampshire.

So what went wrong?
"A lot of things happened," Carson told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger during a campaign swing in South Carolina. "Paris happened, and San Bernardino happened. Plus you had, I think, an almost unprecedented attack on my character."
In an interview with the candidate and his wife, Candy, the retired neurosurgeon took umbrage at the criticism of his lack of foreign policy expertise.
"I know plenty about foreign policy, and about national security. Probably a lot more than most of the other people running," Carson said.
The sit-down session, which took place before Carson suspended campaigning after a campaign volunteer was killed in a car accident in Iowa, ranged from foreign policy to the state of his campaign to Trump's religious beliefs.
The renewed focus on terrorism after recent attacks has not been good for Carson, whose foreign policy experience was questioned by former advisers. On one recent foreign policy crisis -- the capture of 10 U.S. Navy sailors by Iran -- Carson said he would have handled the situation differently than the current administration.
"I'd say we hold all the cards there. I would say, I want those sailors back. And I want everybody that you're holding from us back right now or you're not getting a penny," Carson said, referring to the Iran nuclear deal.
Candy Carson pointed to her husband's crisis management skills as a neurosurgeon as the experience necessary for the presidency. "He's had more 2 or 3 a.m. calls where he had to make life or death decisions," than his competitors, she told Borger.
One of those challengers, Donald Trump, has recently targeted a key base of support for Carson: evangelical Christians. Ben Carson wouldn't say if he thought Trump was a true evangelical but said he could see why he might be appealing to evangelical voters.
"He tends to talk about things that are right versus wrong. And that's something that I think many evangelicals identify with. And I'm sure there are some who may be a little skeptical about some of the depth of his evangelical conversion. But they like the fact that he paints things in a way that is very clear," Carson said.
It's a style far at odds with the famously sedate Carson -- a personality that Candy Carson said was essential for her husband's work as a surgeon.
"People like to say that he's not animated enough and so on and so forth, but if you're operating on someone for 10 or 15 hours at a time, you've got to make these very minute incisions. If you sneeze too hard, if you breathe too hard, that person might lose their sight or their hearing or they might die," Candy Carson said. "That's the kind of person you want to have their finger on the button."
Ben Carson said he doesn't have trouble connecting with voters when he meets them in person.
"Communicating has not been a problem when I actually get in front of an audience," he said, describing overflow crowds at some of his Iowa rallies. Carson is counting on that support -- so far not reflected in the polls -- to deliver the state for him.
"I suspect that all of you guys might be a little surprised on the day after the Iowa caucus," he said.