- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Retired neurosurgeon Ben S. Carson has formally launched an exploratory committee to test the waters for a White House bid next year, providing the clearest signal yet about his intentions.

The move means Mr. Carson, who was a weekly columnist for The Washington Times, can now raise money to fund a presidential bid and makes him a candidate for all practical purposes. No other high-profile Republican has taken this step, though several others have made quasi-candidate moves of different sorts.

“All of us are frustrated with the way Washington has let us down,” Mr. Carson says in a video posted to the committee website. “Career politicians simply don’t understand the disappointment, anger and pain in real America. As they cater to the special interests first, they don’t even seem to care about how failed policies and waste actually affect us — the people of the United States. I think it’s time for us to show them how much we do care about the job they are doing.”

Mr. Carson has sent strong signals about his presidential intentions, including bringing on several staffers who would handle the financial side of a campaign.

A former pediatric neurosurgeon, he rose to prominence in conservative circles after criticizing President Obama at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. He is almost certain to be the only black candidate in the Republican field.

In the speech Tuesday, he laid out an agenda, albeit repeatedly in the hypothetical “if I run” voice.

“If I run for president, it will be because I know what it’s like to grow up in a tough neighborhood and feel marginalized,” said Mr. Carson, who was raised in Detroit. “If I run, it will be because I know firsthand that quality education is the ladder to climb out of poverty and dependence.”

“If I run, it will be because I know the very survival of our great country depends on strong leadership to address our real concerns about security, about jobs, about America’s standing in the world,” Mr. Carson said.

Mr. Carson for months has used speaking engagements and book signings to appeal to tea party conservatives and the part of the Republican Party that sees Capitol Hill leaders and the party establishment as too unwilling to fight Mr. Obama.

Formally setting up the committee allows Mr. Carson to raise money for expenses such as travel to further gauge support for a possible run. The first Republican National Committee-approved debate is set for August.

“Obviously, this is a very big step,” committee Chairman Terry Giles told The Associated Press. “Today we begin the formal process of exploring whether or not Ben can win the presidency.”

Several potential candidates have hinted about their intentions beyond frequent trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, which are inevitably couched as something else.

Among Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has formed what he called a “testing the waters” committee to weigh possible campaigns. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have created political action committees that have some of the same effects as an exploratory committee in terms of adding staff, raising money and campaigning across the country.

On the Democratic side, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia has formed an exploratory committee legally similar to Mr. Carson‘s.

Tuesday’s announcement creates an official Carson campaign, though there have been months of pressure on Mr. Carson, including the independent political committee “Run, Ben, Run,” with which Mr. Carson says he has no affiliation.

The committee began announcing its top leadership Tuesday. The group includes Ed Brookover, who has worked on various Washington-based Republican campaign committees. Mr. Carson will also name a likely communications director, campaign manager and two deputy campaign managers, Mr. Giles told AP, adding that they are also building teams in Iowa and South Carolina.

Mr. Carson’s national headquarters will be in the Virginia suburbs of Washington.

Mr. Giles said he expects an official announcement of candidacy this spring.

“I’m certainly very hopeful that he will announce in May,” Mr. Giles said. “I think there’s a great likelihood he will.”

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