Black conservative leaders said Thursday that the 2016 GOP presidential field is wide open, but added that grass-roots and tea party candidates who challenge the establishment are likely to get a lot of positive attention — including Ben Carson.
Gathered in Washington for the Black Conservative Summit, the leaders were hesitant to back anyone this early in the contest, but Mr. Carson, a neurosurgeon who has said a presidential bid is likely, has earned the spotlight.
“He’s shown himself to be a leader, shown himself to be a problem-solver and I commend him for that,” said Garry Cobb, a former linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite being the Republican nominee in New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District, Mr. Cobb named Mr. Carson over home state Gov. Chris Christie, one of the early establishment favorites for the GOP’s nomination.
Bishop E.W. Jackson, founder of Exodus Faith Ministries and president of Staying True to America’s National Destiny, said Mr. Carson “is going to get a very close look” from voters, though there are others that deserve attention too.
“Obviously Dr. Ben Carson is a member of the black community, comes from the black experience, so obviously people are going to be looking very closely at him, but I think Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz all have a great deal to offer and great deal to say,” he said.
Mr. Carson gained national attention with his 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, where he delivered a stinging rebuke on the direction of the country while President Obama was two seats away from him at the head table.
The Rev. Walter B. Hoye II, president and founder of the Issues4life Foundation, said he’d like to see some of the conservatives end up on the same ticket.
“I like the Ted Cruz/Ben Carson ticket a lot, an awful lot, and I’ve heard some great news about fundraising in terms of what Ben Carson has been able to accomplish, and I think when you put Ted Cruz together with Ben Carson it’s a ticket that can go all the way,” he said.
Other leaders at the summit highlighted Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has made a point of arguing that the Republican message can win over black voters.
“I like how he has been engaging minority voters, really making a true genuine effort to reach out to African-Americans, Hispanics and all minorities across the country,” Telly Lovelace, a political consultant, said of Mr. Paul.
The leaders did have several warnings for the GOP as a whole as it heads into the next presidential cycle.
Mr. Jackson cautioned against being too harsh on Mr. Obama, saying that could turn off black voters.
“We have to be very careful not to seem to be attacking the president personally,” Mr. Jackson said, citing a visceral loyalty to the first black president. “No matter what he says or does or stands for, he is inoculated as the first black president of the U.S., and we have to deal with that.”
And Eric Wallace, founder of the Freedom’s Journal Institute for the Study of Faith and Public Policy, said Republicans need to have a civil fight as they battle for the nomination.
“What bothers me is when people attack one another, personally. We need to stay away from that and just talk about policy and talk abut why we are better equipped to step in office day one and be commander in chief,” he said.