“What happened is, Trump’s [success] raised the specter of, ‘Yeah, I don’t have go with somebody like a [Scott] Walker who claims to take on special interests, but at the end of the day is a career politician. But Trump is a little too far out for me. Let me take a second look at Carson, who did really well in that debate.’ That’s the kind of voter he’s getting,” Murray said.

Carson’s mild-mannered mien is proving especially appealing to evangelicals,some of whom see the more modest Carson — married to the same woman for 40 years — as closer to their values than the boastful and thrice-married Trump. Carson’s tractionwith that key GOP voting bloc comes as other Republicans, particularly Jeb Bush, have ramped up their questioning of Trump’s conservative credentials, pointing out that he used to be supportive of abortion rights and assembling clips of the billionaire praising Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s almost comical attempt to dodge a recent question about his favorite Bible verse — after calling it his favorite book — won’t help his cause with Christian conservatives against Carson, a former Sunday school teacher who speaks of “the need to reverse the recent trend of secular progressives using activist, federal judges to drive faith out of our society.”