Des Moines, Iowa — Grassroots favorite Ben Carson was the first potential GOP candidate to take the stage Saturday at the Iowa Freedom Summit, hosted by the conservative activist group Citizens United and congressman Steve King.
The event serves as the unofficial kickoff of the 2016 presidential primary, and a host of the potential candidates are on hand for it, from Carson to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Texas senator Ted Cruz, former Texas governor Rick Perry, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
“I love Iowa,” Carson told the crowd. ”There are so many people here who actually have common sense.”
Carson is a favorite among voters in the first caucus state, which has a history of supporting surprise victors and threatening to throw the nomination to an insurgent: Mike Huckabee won Iowa in 2008 and Rick Santorum won the state in 2012. Carson, if he gets in the race, would be a real contender in 2016.
As Citizens United president David Bossie introduced Carson before he took the stage, he reminded the audience of some of the famed Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon’s most controversial comments. Inside the historic Hoyt Sherman Place theater, the 1,500 plus-strong crowd cheered as Bossie recalled Carson’s remark that Obamacare is worst thing that has happened to America since slavery.
Carson’s remarks ranged from the importance of hard work and education to illegal immigration and health care.
As a matter of principle, Carson told the crowd, he opposes government control of health care, which he said “fundamentally changes America.”
“Even if it worked I would oppose it,” he said. “It doesn’t.”
Potential 2016 candidates absent from today’s event, the first in a series of forays to court voters in Iowa, included Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul, who is making his own visit to Iowa in a few weeks.