Ben Carson did his best to energize a sleepy CPAC audience to kick off the annual gathering of conservatives in National Harbor, Md., but the real energy for the grass-roots favorite seemed to be outside the auditorium where he delivered his address.
Carson, who emerged as a darling on the right after he excoriated President Obama at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, seems to have the largest contingent of supporters in the early goings-on, with dozens of attendees wearing “Run Ben Run” t-shirts and banners scattered about the Gaylord Hotel.
He didn’t indicate that he was any closer to a potential presidential run today, but his speech was met with cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd nonetheless.
Outlining what he envisions as important for the next president, Carson said conservatives must address some of the biggest issues that “will destroy us as a nation,” including the growing national debt, burdensome regulation on the economy, the threat of radical Islam, and Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, among others.
Carson checked off key national issues, but what seemed to be a largely improvised speech didn’t offer any hints of how serious he might be about running for president in 2016, a possibility he’s suggested he’d be open to.
Potential presidential candidates will participate in a short Q&A session following their speeches, and Carson’s answers toed the conservative line on issues such as Common Core and the Islamic State. Impressed with his answers, the moderator complimented Carson on his conciseness.
“Well, I’m a surgeon,” he quipped.
Carson’s time on the stage was well-received, and though his rhetoric was relatively tepid, chants of “Run, Ben, Run” could be heard coming from outside the room after he left the stage. Carson’s inspirational story of rising from a tough childhood to world renown as a neurosurgeon still seems to have the same purchase among conservative activists that it did a year ago.