- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2014

Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson says he originally planned to enjoy a slower pace in retirement — but the “good Lord” had a different plan, he said.

That different plan, as it turns out, has the former doctor and conservative commentator smack in the middle of the 2016 presidential conversation — Mr. Carson took third place in this weekend’s The Washington Times/Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll.

If Mr. Carson does decide to run, Vernon Robinson wants to make sure he has a base of support. Mr. Robinson, national director of the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, said the Baltimore native is the only Republican who could beat former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“I think the message [is] that Dr. Carson is the only candidate on the GOP side who can broaden the base of the GOP by getting 17 percent of the black vote or better, thus denying Hillary the opportunity to win any of the swing states and doing a lot of wreckage to the left coalition,” Mr. Robinson told The Washington Times. “As well as the fact that Dr. Carson is able to calmly and effectively communicate conservative issues so that the average voter can understand.”

The draft committee, which is chaired by John Philip Sousa IV, says it has raised nearly $3 million in six months from 47,000 donors, attracted 7,100 volunteers, and paid to have banners with Mr. Carson’s image plastered on the side of the shuttle buses that were running daily between Washington, D.C., and the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, the site of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

And they even paid to have their would-be-candidate’s face adorn hotel room keys.

Mr. Carson earlier put some distance between himself and the group’s efforts, but he appears to have warmed to the idea of playing a role in the upcoming elections.

“I will continue to be part of the political discussion,” he told The Times. “I will encourage other people to get involved and to open their mouths and to stand for what they believe in.”

David Fischer, a retiree from Florida who was one of many rotating in and out of the group’s booth at CPAC, called Mr. Carson “the risk-free candidate” in that he does not bring with him the baggage of other contenders like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or the taint of Washington, D.C., for people like Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky or Ted Cruz of Texas.

“I think it would be a betrayal if he didn’t run,” Mr. Fischer said. “I think he will run — I really believe that.”

Mr. Carson’s stock has been on the rise in conservative circles since the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, where he ripped into President Obama’s health care overhaul right in front of him.

He finished second to Mr. Cruz in the October Values Voters Summit and his 9 percent in this weekend’s straw poll was up from 4 percent last year.

Mr. Robinson says his group sends 4,000 petitions over to Mr. Carson each week “so he sees that there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who want him to run.”

He said two major goals for the group are to successfully employ social media tools integrated through its website to attract support, and maintain a hyperresponsive operation akin to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s short-lived 2004 presidential campaign.

Mr. Robinson, who himself was a former candidate for Congress in North Carolina, said that by the end of the year the Draft Carson group wants to have attracted 150,000 donors and have raised between $7 million and $9 million.