Ben Carson to announce presidency decision in Detroit

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Dr. Ben Carson is expected to officially declare his decision on whether to run for president May 4 in his hometown of Detroit.

The event at the Detroit Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts will be ticketed, though a time hasn’t been set, officials said Monday.

Carson, 63, was in Michigan this month to deliver a paid speech at Alma College, and he’s recently appeared in New Hampshire, Iowa and Tennessee, giving a speech at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association in Nashville this past weekend.

Carson is the only African-American in a long list of presidential hopefuls. He placed fourth among Republican hopefuls in a Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll in late February, gleaning 11.4 percent of votes behind Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky (25.7 percent); Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (21.4 percent) and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (11.5 percent).

Paul, Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida are officially in the running for the Republican nomination, and former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Sunday that she’s seeking the Democratic nomination.

The political action committee backing Carson raised nearly $13.3 million in donations last year, according to campaign finance reports.

Carson’s presidential exploratory committee, formed in early March, brought in more than $2.1 million in its first 28 days, according to a statement by Barry Bennett, the campaign’s manager.

A Washington outsider, Carson has not previously held or run for public office. The pediatric neurosurgeon became a darling among conservatives in 2013 after criticizing President Barack Obama’s health care law while standing feet from him at the National Prayer Breakfast. He has compared the Affordable Care Act to slavery and the Nazi government.

A bestselling author, Carson pens a syndicated column and fields requests for speaking engagements around the country. He retired from his longtime post at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore two years ago amid reports he would be a possible presidential contender in 2016.

His surgical practice focused on traumatic brain injuries, brain and spinal cord tumors, and neurological and congenital disorders. He was the first to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head.

Carson was raised by a single mother on Detroit’s northwest side, graduating from Southwest High School, Yale University and the University of Michigan School of Medicine. He now splits his time between the Baltimore area and West Palm Beach, Florida.

Compared with the GOP front-runners, Carson’s organization hasn’t been been very visible in Michigan to date, said Stu Sandler, a Republican consultant in Ann Arbor.

“The top-tier candidates at least have visible support and visible personalities backing them in Michigan,” Sandler said. “Right now, he’s a popular speaker. He’s got some work to do to build that into a presidential campaign.”

Political observers note that Carson enjoys a grassroots following, name recognition and the attention of right-wing media. His support is strongest among social conservatives and tea party voters, but the first-time campaigner has little chance of backing by the Republican establishment, said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

“The last president elected who had never been in any elected public office was Dwight Eisenhower, and he was supreme allied commander in World War II. Carson has not led us through any wars,” Sabato said.

“And given all the controversies in his record, it would be Goldwater all over again.”

Sabato was referring to 1964 Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, who was also prone to gaffes.

Last month, Carson apologized after telling CNN that being gay is a choice because people “go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay.” Carson later said on his Facebook page that “my choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues.”

“I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive,” Carson wrote.

He has said marriage can only be defined as between a man and woman but supports civil unions and says the states should decide whether to permit or ban gay marriage.

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Detroit News Staff Writer Dave Shepardson contributed to this report.