NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Other speakers had rowdier receptions and larger followings. But few who appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference this past week had an emotional pull on the audience quite like Dr. Ben Carson.
The renowned pediatric neurosurgeon-turned-Obama antagonist-turned-conservative darling drew a less than ideal slot for the annual confab, as first speaker up — at 8 a.m. — on the very first day. His soft-spoken delivery, even peppered with the requisite applause lines, seemed to reflect the mood of a crowd still sipping its first cup of coffee.
But after he was done Thursday, a noticeable buzz kept up throughout the halls. Carson’s followers, decked out in white shirts adorned with his name, talked about him in terms usually reserved for the pew.
That same unpolished style has its downsides, of course, occasionally getting Carson into trouble and even disinvited from apolitical events. On Thursday, he pledged to remain unbowed by the so-called PC police. But he also acknowledged that he had had to sand down some of his rougher rhetorical edges, if only to ensure that his provocativeness doesn’t overshadow his message.
How he balances those two impulses will very much affect the course of a quixotic but increasingly likely run for the White House. It is precisely those rough edges, after all, that have made him uniquely appealing.
“He is not a politician. He is not in it for himself. He is in it for the country. You can just feel that about him. That he loves us,” said Joyce Clark, an Alabama organizer for the committee that’s encouraging Carson to run. “I feel he is telling the truth, which I feel is rare right now. I pretty much hear people open their mouth and expect it not to be true. But when he speaks, I believe him. He is one of the most inspiring figures we’ve ever seen.”