What happened to Ben Carson?

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson pauses as he speaks to the media following a fundraising luncheon in La Jolla, California November 17, 2015.

REUTERS/Mike Blake

Ben Carson, a political outsider who led the GOP presidential field a few months ago, opened the door this week to speculation that he could alter his campaign operations as he faces declining poll numbers.

In separate media interviews at his Maryland home Wednesday, the retired neurosurgeon suggested that a major shake-up of his campaign could come soon, including "personnel changes."

"Everything. Everything is on the table," he told the Associated Press about the potential revamp. "Every single thing is on the table. I'm looking carefully."

Carson, who said something similar to The Washington Post, later pushed back against the reports after speaking to his team that afternoon. The campaign then blasted out a statement from Carson in which he said he has "100 percent confidence" in his team.

"We are refining some operational practices and streamlining some staff assignments to more aptly match the tasks ahead, but my senior team remains in place with my full confidence, and they will continue to execute our campaign plan," Carson said.

On "CNN Tonight" Wednesday, Carson accused the Post of sensationalizing the situation, but he did not deny that changes may occur.

"No one is ever a 100 percent guaranteed that they are always going to be there. And that as the organization grows and as our responsibilities grow, you know, some things may have to change," he said. "And we have to add some people, we may have to change and we have to add some people. We may have to change some people."

In late October, Carson rose to the front of the Republican pack in a number of polls gauging voters' choices nationally and in Iowa.

A CBS News battleground tracker poll from Oct. 25, for example, found Donald Trump and Carson were tied at 27 percent in the key first-caucus state. A CBS News/NYTimes national poll released on Oct. 27 found Carson had surpassed Trump nationally among likely GOP primary voters with 26 percent backing Carson, 4 percentage points ahead of Trump.

But in several polls released a few weeks later, after the Paris terrorist attacks on Nov. 13, support for Carson began to deteriorate.

A CBS News battleground tracker poll released Nov. 22 found Trump led with 30 percent in Iowa. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, surged into second place with 21 percent support, and Carson trailed in third place with 19 percent support.

Just this week, a new CBS News battleground tracker survey found Cruz has now risen to first place in Iowa with 40 percent support, and Carson has fallen to fourth place with just 6 percent saying they would back him there.

Iowa voters who previously said they supported Carson were re-interviewed in that new poll, and reported moving to support Cruz more than Trump. Of the voters who were re-contacted who backed Carson in November, nearly half said they now support Cruz while 37 percent said they back Trump.

A Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released last month that showed Cruz moved into first place in Iowa found support for Carson in that state had dropped by 15 percentage points.

Several of the CBS battleground tracker surveys also showed Carson lagging in the other key early voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.

In the CNN interview on Wednesday, Carson was asked to react to the roller coaster-like trend in his poll numbers.

"Polls go up and down. And I suspect there's probably a fair amount of movement, particularly into that last few weeks before the Iowa caucus," he said.

In the wake of the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shooting on Dec. 2, voters have become increasingly concerned about national security and terrorism over issues like the economy. Given that shift, Carson has faced questions about his lack of foreign policy experience and whether someone with a soft-spoken temperament is the right candidate to lead the nation.

People think that "because you are soft-spoken and nice, you can't possibly be tough, you can't have the strength to deal with the incredible security problems we now face," Carson told the AP. He insisted that "is not true, but I'm now talking about it."

Carson has also been tripped up by questions about foreign affairs. At the Fox Business debate in November, Carson suggested that China was involved in Syria's civil war.

"We also must recognize that it's a very complex place," Carson said about Syria. "You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there."

A subsequent statement by his campaign, obtained by Politifact, said that Carson never asserted that China is fighting in or deploying troops to Syria. The New York Times quoted advisers as saying that Carson had trouble mastering foreign policy issues, but his campaign brushed off those reports.

In late November, Carson traveled overseas to Jordan to meet with Syrian refugees. He also had planned a year-end trip to Israel and several countries in Africa this month, but recently canceled the trip, citing security concerns.

For a few weeks in early November, Carson had also come under fire after doubts were raised about his claims that he had been offered a full scholarship to West Point, that he had a violent past when he was younger, and that he believes that Egyptian pyramids were made to store grain.

With less than six weeks left before voting begins in Iowa, Carson may join Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina as early contenders whose support has evaporated. Likely Republican caucus-goers in the Hawkeye State now appear to prefer Cruz and Trump.

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.