Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has become a grassroots conservative favorite on the strength of his motivational life story and strong opposition to President Barack Obama, said Sunday that he is entering the crowded Republican race for the presidential nomination.
“I’m willing to be part of the equation and therefore, I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States of America,” Carson told WKRC, a Cincinnati, Ohio, television station, one day before he kicked off his campaign in Detroit.
The announcement puts Carson, 63, the black former head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, into his first political campaign following what his aides have described as a crash course on everything from economic issues to foreign policy.
Carson has portrayed himself in speeches and interviews as a fighter against political correctness and of politicians on the whole. It's a position reflected in his policy ideas, many of which are laid out in his six published books that don't necessarily follow straight conservative orthodoxy. He's a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act who, as a world class surgeon, says health insurance companies should be turned into utilities with profit limits. He's a free-market advocate who points to the deregulation of Wall Street in the 1990s as the root cause of the financial crisis. He relied on food stamps during periods of his youth, yet points to President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society era as the start of the steady fall of the country's individualism and independence.
“I'm not going to do and say what's politically expedient, I’m going to say what's right,” Carson said in an interview with Bloomberg before his announcement. “If that's something that resonates with the people great and if it doesn't, that's who I am and I'm not going to change.”
Carson addressed supporters Monday morning in Detroit, the battered city where he spent much of his youth—a period defined by points when his family relied heavily on government assistance. According to his best-selling autobiography, Gifted Hands, Carson had to overcome personal bouts with anger and educational apathy.
His backstory, though, was only a piece of what Carson himself acknowledges as an unexpected political rise that resulted in speaking engagements across the country, regular appearances on Fox News, and, most importantly, viable poll numbers in early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. While he remains a long-shot candidate in a deep Republican field, Carson has consistently pulled 5 or 6 percent in those early state polls, which his advisers say was enough to lure him into the race, especially given still-low name identification around the country.
The goal, according to Carson and his aides, is to use the campaign launch as a springboard in the weeks ahead. “The plan is to be able to speak in a very public forum,” Carson said, adding that he's targeting the debate stage, where he'd face off with at least a half-dozen other Republican hopefuls, as his time to hit the national mainstream.
Carson spoke to supporters Monday in the face of looming personal tragedy. His mother, Sonya, whom he cites each time he speaks publicly as the driving force behind his ability to rise from poverty to become a world-class surgeon, is near death, according to Carson senior adviser Armstrong Williams. Carson will postpone his first official campaign trip to Iowa and instead travel to Dallas after his campaign announcement to be by her side as she battles Alzheimer's, Williams said.
The turn in his mother's health was unexpected: Carson became aware of her worsening condition during rehearsals Sunday night for his announcement in Detroit.
His political launch can be traced back to February 2013, with a single speech at the National Prayer Breakfast challenging Obama on health care, taxes, spending, and the country's direction—all with the president and first lady sitting a few feet away.
The next day the Wall Street Journal published an editorial titled “Ben Carson for President.” Just a few months before his retirement from the medical profession, the speech set off a whirlwind two years for Carson. He has criss-crossed the country, sometimes delivering four to five paid speeches a week, and building grassroots support that has filled his campaign bank accounts. In the first 28 days after launching his exploratory committee in March, Carson raised more than $2 million. A super-political action committee established by outside supporters to push Carson toward a run raised more than $13.5 million in less than two years as of the end of 2014, according to Federal Election Commission filings.