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Carson Touts Candor As A Plus For His GOP Presidential Bid


Now let's turn to a man who has never been in office. He thinks that is a strength as he now runs for president. His name is Ben Carson. He's a famed neurosurgeon who added his name yesterday to the list of people running for the Republican nomination. It's becoming quite a crowd. Carly Fiorina announced yesterday. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is expected to announce today, but let's turn now to the newcomer, Ben Carson. NPR's Brakkton Booker was at his announcement.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Ben Carson has a habit of doing thing his way.


CHOIR: (Vocalizing).

BOOKER: At his campaign kickoff event, Carson, a Detroit native, had a choir singing the Motor City's anthem, "Lose Yourself," by hip-hop star Eminem. After a brief introduction of his family, he uttered the words everyone in the music hall came to hear.


BEN CARSON: Now I've introduced my family, you'll say, well, who are you? I'll tell you. I'm Ben Carson, and I'm a candidate for president of the United States.


BOOKER: Carson's rise to this point is nothing short of remarkable. He grew up here in Detroit a poor kid whose single mother could barely read, but who worked multiple jobs to support them. Carson became a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and gained worldwide fame as the first to separate conjoined twins joined at the back of the head.


CARSON: And there are people who say but you can't do this. You don't have any experience. Let me tell you something. I don't have a lot of experience busting budgets and doing the kinds of things that have gotten us into all the trouble that we're in now, but I do have a lot of experience in solving problems - complex surgical problems that have never been done by anybody before.

BOOKER: In recent years, Carson's become a darling of conservatives. It started when he criticized the president on his health care law and other policies at a prayer breakfast with the president sitting just a few feet away. His willingness to shun political correctness has endeared him to many, but also brought unwanted scrutiny, like when he attended a Values Voter Summit in 2013 and compared Obamacare to slavery.


CARSON: You know, Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery, and it is in a way - it is slavery in way...


CARSON: ...Because it is making all of us subservient to the government.

BOOKER: Or when he was on CNN and was asked whether being gay was a choice.


CHRIS CUOMO: You think being gay is a choice?

CARSON: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Why do you say that?

CARSON: Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight, and when they come out, they're gay.

BOOKER: He later apologized for that remark. But his candor has helped him gather a strong grassroots following. Carson now outpolls such established politicians as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Dr. Ben Carson, with absolutely no political experience whatsoever, occupies a very unique spot on the political landscape.

BOOKER: Kellyanne Conway is a Republican pollster, and she says Carson is a welcomed entrant in the 2016 mix, but he needs to prepare for the likely focus on international issues.

CONWAY: He'll need to show the world, if not the voters, that he can be their commander in chief at a time when national security and foreign policy seems to be up there with jobs and the economy as a burning issue to many voters, particularly in the early primary caucus states on the Republican side.

BOOKER: And none comes earlier than Iowa, where Carson will get his first chance to address potential caucus goers when his campaign arrives in the state later today. Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.
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