- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ben Carson has survived the first test of his candidacy, holding steady in the polls even as the GOP presidential field has ballooned to more than a dozen candidates.

Now, the retired neurosurgeon is making a concerted push to expand his appeal beyond traditional Republican voting blocs, making a foray to speak to a leading Hispanic group last week. And he’s taken a leading role in trying to define a GOP position on race and bigotry after last week’s South Carolina church shooting, insisting that the country acknowledge the attack was spurred by the “sickness” of racism.

“Let’s call this sickness what it is, so we can get on with the healing. If this were a medical disease, and all the doctors recognized the symptoms but refused to make the diagnosis for fear of offending the patient, we could call it madness,” Mr. Carson wrote in a USA Today op-ed. “But there are people who are claiming that they can lead this country who dare not call this tragedy an act of racism, a hate crime, for fear of offending a particular segment of the electorate.”

Mr. Carson has defied the fears of some Republicans who’d expected the wheels to come off his campaign soon after his May announcement, and feared the GOP would end up excluding the only black candidate from the party’s opening primary debate in early August.

But months later, the 63-year-old political neophyte is well-positioned to be one of the top 10 candidates who make the stage, and is holding his own against more established Republicans who have spent years in the public arena polishing their resumes.

The field is expected to grow Wednesday when Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announces his political plans.

SEE ALSO: House votes to repeal Obamacare’s ‘death panel’

Mr. Carson’s outsider’s approach is part of his appeal for voters, said Judy Davidson, head of the Scott County GOP in Iowa.

“They like him because some people are looking for somebody who was not involved in the political world before and if that is what you are looking for he might be one of your candidates,” Mrs. Davidson said. “I think that is probably the biggest, most, consistent thing that I hear about him.”

Mr. Carson is looking to be the first non-politician to win the presidency since 1953 when Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was elected.

With roughly seven months to go before the Iowa caucus start the nomination race, the Real Clear Politics average of national polls shows Mr. Carson is running in fourth place, behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Sen. Marco Rubio, also of Florida.

Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said Mr. Carson has strong support from self-identified “very conservative” voters.

“He knows that is where his support is,” Mr. Malloy said. “The task ahead will be to broaden it.”

Mr. Carson looked to broaden his appeal last week at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) annual conference, which is billed as the largest gathering of Latino policymakers in the country.

Numerous GOP candidates were invited, but Mr. Carson was the only Republican to show.

“Your schedule is a reflection of your priorities,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO.

Mr. Vargas said Mr. Carson’s message resonated with the crowd — particularly on issues of race and the importance of a strong education.

“I don’t think he should be underestimated at all,” Mr. Vargas said.

Policy-wise, Mr. Carson has called for a flat tax and the end of Obamacare, and said that he will not hesitate to put boots on the ground to defeat Islamic militants in the Middle East.

Mike Murray, a senior adviser to Mr. Carson in charge of grass-roots fundraising, said that the campaign is “firing on all cylinders” and has received 187,000 donations in just over 100 days, and is likely to surpass 200,000 donations before the first campaign finance filing deadline next week.

“I have been doing this a long time and this is most solid grass-roots fundraising numbers I have ever seen,” Mr. Murray said.

Mr. Murray said Mr. Carson has received a lot of support from millennials, as well as people who are giving money to a presidential candidate for the first time.

“Those are two things that are unique from my perspective,” he said. “I think he is bringing people into the fold that typically are not involved.”

Doug Watts, a Carson spokesman, said the campaign plans to have enough money and manpower to stick in the race through the Republican National Convention. Mr. Watts said the campaign has 20 foot soldiers fanned out over Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, hosts of early nomination contests.

And he said his boss is benefiting from the “Run Ben Run 2016 Committee,” which is unaffiliated with the official campaign and is an offshoot of the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee that has been building support on the activist level for over a year.

“What is magical about them is that they got an 18 months start on practically everyone else in the race, with the exception of Hillary Clinton,” he said. “It is sort of a silent surprise for us, and from what I have seen they have put together a pretty effective organization.”

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