White House Brief: Things to know about Ben Carson

AP News
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Posted: Jan 29, 2016 5:38 AM
White House Brief: Things to know about Ben Carson

ATLANTA (AP) — Ben Carson rose from poverty to international fame as pediatric neurosurgeon, yet he's found the path to the White House to be complicated. Carson remains popular among evangelical conservatives who are frustrated by the status quo. He still finds himself trailing more outspoken, bombastic candidates who tap into widespread frustration in conservative circles. Here's a quick look at some things to know about him.

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THE BRIEF

Carson says he never intended to run for president, but was coaxed into it by supporters mesmerized with his personal story.

The only African-American hopeful among major presidential candidates, Carson delighted white conservatives with his withering critiques of President Barack Obama, the nation's first black president.

But he withered himself under the spotlight reserved for front-runners, falling from a brief national lead in late October to almost afterthought status heading into the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus. He's endured questions about the accuracy of his autobiography, struggled to establish foreign policy credentials and watched his campaign inner circle implode.

Still, he's hoping to use his quiet strength among evangelical conservatives to re-energize his campaign with a surprisingly strong finish in Iowa, a state that gave fellow evangelical favorites Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum victories in the last two GOP presidential caucuses.

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RESUME REVIEW

Carson is among the GOP hopefuls to attract support in part because he's never held public office. He's never even sought it.

Carson earned national acclaim during 29 years leading the pediatric neurosurgery unit of Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. He directed the first surgery to separate twins connected at the back of the head. His career was notable enough to inspire the 2009 movie, "Gifted Hands," with actor Cuba Gooding Jr. depicting Carson.

He went on to become a noted author and inspirational speaker, and gained a national political profile with his 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, where he critiqued what he called the modern welfare state and the nation's overall direction.

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SIGNATURE ISSUE

Carson pitches himself as the antidote to acrimonious politics and a political system he says is consumed by special interests, though he rarely has pointed fingers at specific individuals or entities. "I see myself as a member of 'we the people,' " he said at the outset of his campaign. "I see myself as a logical American who has common sense," he continued, "and I think that's going to resonate with a lot of Americans, regardless of their political party."

Indeed, that outsider's view has helped fuel his campaign, but it's also come with a paucity of policy detail. Combine that with Carson's soft-spoken approach in a campaign dominated by more aggressive candidates like businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Carson finds himself struggling for traction.

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DEBATE DIGEST

Carson is almost a deliberate back-bencher in debates, which he has said often devolve into discussions about "peripheral things that mean nothing to the American people."

But in November, as a front-runner, he suggested China was militarily involved in Syria's civil war. He said, "It's a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there."

The U.S. has released no intelligence that suggests Chinese military engagement in Syria. Carson went on to defend his statement, with his campaign saying he referred only to "longstanding and well-documented security ties to Syria."

But it was the beginning of a weekslong struggle to prove that Carson, the political newcomer, was up to job of commander in chief.

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MOMENT TO REMEMBER

The inner-workings of campaign staffs often are overrated. But Carson's bid has been almost defined by the acrimony between his paid campaign staffers and his longtime business manager, Armstrong Williams.

Days before Christmas, Carson welcomed journalists to his Maryland home — without the knowledge of his top campaign aides — to promise that "every single thing" about his campaign was "on the table," including "personnel."

A week later, his campaign manager, Barry Bennett, and communications director, Doug Watts, resigned. On his way out, Bennett questioned Carson's fitness for the Oval Office and suggested he had become Williams's "script reader."

"No one wants Armstrong Williams anywhere near the Oval Office," Bennett said.

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PLEASE FORGET

Carson lashed out in November at questions about whether he was "offered a full scholarship" to West Point, as he wrote in "Gifted Hands."

He traced the claim to his high school ROTC days, when he recalled that top U.S. military brass "specifically" offered him a scholarship. But West Point cadets don't get scholarships. They receive appointments through an extremely competitive application process; they ultimately pay no tuition.

"What about the West Point thing is false? What is false about it?" he said to reporters in November. Pressed for details on who offered him admission, he said, "I don't remember the names of the people. It's almost 50 years ago."

Hours earlier, he told Fox News, "I guess it could have been more clarified. I told it as I understood it."

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