GOP campaigns ponder: Is it safe to attack Ben Carson?

Even before Ben Carson shot to the lead of the Republican presidential race in Iowa, rival campaigns from Donald Trump down began grappling with the question: How to defeat the genial, soft-spoken, African-American brain surgeon who has quietly captured the imagination of so many GOP voters?

The answer: very carefully. "I don't think we run against Carson," said a strategist for a GOP campaign over the weekend. "He's just so well-liked that it is tough." The problem, of course, is that if Carson remains atop the polls in Iowa, and sits in a solid second place in the national polls, other candidates will likely feel compelled to go after him.

And it's not just because that's the way campaigns work. It's because rival operatives see Carson as ultimately vulnerable. As much as they respect Carson as a human being, and are awed by his record of medical achievement, many rival operatives firmly believe Carson knows next to nothing when it comes to governing. "The lack of knowledge Carson has is staggering," said the strategist. "Where are his voters going to go when people realize that Carson doesn't know anything about policy?"

With any other candidate, competitors might pounce now. But not with Ben Carson. For three reasons.

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