Ben Carson didn’t win the CNN debate. He didn’t have to.

Ben Carson didn’t win the CNN debate. He didn’t have to.
Credit: Scott Morgan / Washington Post

In the first GOP de­bate, [Ben] Car­son’s gen­teel per­form­ance led many a pun­dit to dis­miss his stay­ing power in the primary. But des­pite their fore­cast­ing, Car­son has con­tin­ued to gain ground in the polls and now sits at num­ber two be­hind Trump.

What can ac­count for this suc­cess?

First, there’s evid­ence that real voters paid more at­ten­tion to Car­son in last night’s de­bate than Belt­way elites did, ac­cord­ing to this ana­lys­is from Ech­el­on In­sights. And Car­son was the third-most dis­cussed can­did­ate on Face­book, after Trump and Fior­ina, and the fifth-most-men­tioned can­did­ate on Twit­ter.

Second, Car­son has shown he is not in­ter­ested in the de­bate as a pop­ular­ity con­test. In­stead, his cam­paign has taken a note from an un­der­card de­bate con­test­ant: Rick San­tor­um.

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