Can Ben Carson win Iowa just by being a nice guy?

Swinton emitted a reluctant chuckle, and then sighed wistfully. “I really like Ben,” she said. “He’s really smart.” She thought for a moment, and then offered up another virtue. “If you read his stuff, it’s the best stuff.” But? “When you see him in person he just doesn’t bring it on. I don’t think he’s gonna be quick enough and firm enough … He’s a nice guy, but I don’t know if he can be president.”

Mike Crook, from the nearby suburb of Urbandale, said he had donated to Carson’s campaign, and he eagerly praised the quality of the candidate’s character.

“He’s very down to earth. He relates to people. He’s been through so much. He knows what it’s like to live in poverty, he knows what it’s like to live in abundance,” Crook said, adding, “I’ve never seen him think like, ‘I’ve got to be the president!’ He just prays about it, and if he’s the one, great.”

But Crook himself isn’t sure anymore whether Carson is “the one.” He said he was interested in Cruz now, and he gently suggested that he’d like to see Carson demonstrate a firmer understanding of international issues. In the last Republican debate, Carson mistakenly suggested that China’s military had become involved in Syria — one of several flubs that led to one of his own advisers conceding to the New York Times this week that the candidate has struggled to master the complexities of the Middle East.