Ben Carson closing in fast on Donald Trump: NYT/CBS News poll

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Carson has cut into Trump’s lead. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News, photos: Tom Pennington/Getty Images, Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

On the eve of the second Republican debate, Ben Carson has pulled to within just four points of Donald Trump, a new New York Times/CBS News poll finds.

According to the poll, conducted from Sept. 9 to Sept. 13, Trump remains at the top of the GOP pack with 27 percent support among Republican primary and caucus voters, up from 24 percent in the previous poll, which was conducted just before the first Republican debate in early August.

But support for Carson’s candidacy is surging. The retired neurosurgeon is second at 23 percent, up from 6 percent in the previous poll. And given the poll’s margin of sampling error of plus or minus six percentage points, Carson is now running nearly even with the real estate mogul.

Former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina (4 percent) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (3 percent) are the only other candidates who’ve seen their poll numbers rise.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, at 6 percent, is a distant third, down from 13 percent in August. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who had 10 percent support among GOP voters in July, has plummeted to just 2 percent in the latest poll.

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And while the first votes in the 2016 race are still more than four months from being cast, more than a third of Republican voters (37 percent) say they’ve already made up their minds about who they will support for the party’s presidential nomination, while 63 percent have yet to decide.

Both Trump and Carson appear to be benefitting from the desire to put a political outsider in the White House. According to a Quinnipiac poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers conducted earlier this month, a whopping 79 percent said that “experience outside of Washington is better for a president” than experience in Washington, versus just 15 percent who would prefer a candidate from inside the Beltway.

“There are those who say, ‘You don’t have elected political experience,’” Carson said at a rally in Anaheim, Calif., last week. “But if you look at the elected political experience of everybody in Congress, it comes out to about 8,700 years. Where has it gotten us?”

He added: “The fact of the matter is our system was really designed for the citizen statesman. It was not designed for the professional politician.”

All of which would seem to make Wednesday’s debate pivotal for the “professional politicians” onstage. But if the last few weeks of the GOP race are any indication, the debate will be an opportunity for the surging nonpoliticians to confront one another face to face.

Last week, Trump escalated a war of words with both Fiorina and Carson.

Before the rally in Anaheim, Carson was asked what the biggest difference is between himself and the former “Celebrity Apprentice” host.

“I’ve realized where my success has come from, and I don’t in any way deny my faith in God,” Carson told reporters. “And I think that is the big difference.”

“He’s questioning my faith,” Trump said. “I happen to be a great believer in God, a great believer in the Bible. … Who is he to question my faith when I am — he doesn’t even know me. I’ve met him a few times. But I don’t know Ben Carson. He was a doctor, perhaps an OK doctor.”

Trump, who has criticized Bush as a “low-energy” candidate, added that the “low-key” Carson “makes Bush look like the Energizer Bunny.”

And in a Rolling Stone article published Wednesday, Trump was quoted saying Fiorina’s face makes her unelectable.

On Friday, she fired back, encouraging a gathering of Republican women to do exactly what Trump commanded: “Look at that face!”

“Ladies, look at this face,” Fiorina said to roaring applause. “This is the face of a 61-year-old woman. I am proud of every year and every wrinkle.”

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