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Ben Carson teases Sarasota a week before he officially becomes a presidential candidate

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Ben Carson has become somewhat of a phenomenon among the Tea Party Right in the Republican Party, though whether there’s enough room for him in the crowded GOP presidential contest will soon be tested.

A 63-year-old retired pediatric neurosurgeon who now resides in West Palm Beach, Carson’s super PAC has raised well north of $2 million.

But where does he get off thinking that he can lead the country?

“What I would say to those people is — wouldn’t you rather have somebody who knows how to solve problems?” Carson told an audience of around 800 people who gathered early Monday night at Dolphin Aviation in Sarasota.

Carson is not an official candidate for the nomination — not yet anyhow, though he’s expected to become one next week, with a speech in his hometown of Detroit.

His 25-minute speech in Sarasota went over his hardscrabble background that he depicted in his 1996 memoir Gifted Hands, which was made into a made-for-television movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. in 2009.

That background includes the tough love he received from his mother Sonya while growing up in poverty in Detroit, and the joy and pleasure he took in from reading as a youth. He takes his rags to riches lifestyle as a template that anyone else can adapt to, and remarks about how the Founding Fathers talked about how important an informed and educated populace was to the country.

“Our freedom, our system is based on people who know what’s going on,” he said, fearing that those who are uninformed won’t have the “wherewithal” to intelligently analyze the information they receive. He said that dishonest politicians and a biased media could hurt the county quickly, “And I think we’re seeing evidence of that right now.”

Carson is a humble speaker, but not a flamboyant one. He speaks softly, and talks about the issues in a simple tone. Really simple.

Regarding our tax system, which he decries as absurd, Carson believes in tithing being the way to go, with everyone, regardless of income, paying 10 percent of their income to the I.R.S.

Carson thinks there’s too much divisiveness in our culture –though critics say his comparing the U.S. under Obama to Nazi Germany and Obamacare to slavery aren’t exactly warm and gentle thoughts. He said regarding energy policy, it’s “silly” to have one group call for more fossil fuels, and another call for green energy. “We don’t have to be enemies,” he said. “That’s why we have complex things, so we can do more than one thing. That’s one of the things that threatens us — the division, because these people have allowed the purveyors of division to fundamentally affect the way they think about their fellow Americans.”

He also criticized the way dueling sides in America engage in public disputes. “They think if someone disagrees with you, they’re your enemy, to be destroyed,” calling such vitriol “absolutely absurd.” He said the various “wars” in the country — the war on women, income wars, religious wars, race wars — are all created by “enemies” who attempt to divide and conquer Americans.

Carson isn’t too heavy on policy prescriptions, though he promised that there will be much to come if in fact he becomes an official candidate next week. He believes the armed forces are not being sufficiently supported financially, and says that makes no sense with a growing terrorist threat.

On health care, Carson has been an unrelenting critic of the Affordable Care Act. On Monday he said that health care was not a right, “But it is a responsibility for compassionate people, and we are that.” He also maintained that “we do have ways to provide with care for a lot less money and a much higher quality.”

But for more meat on the bones, he promised that’s coming in the following weeks.

Like Carly Florina, another GOP probable presidential candidate who has never held elected office, some observers, like Hillsborough County Republican Eddie Adams, say they see Carson as more of a potential VP choice.

“You hear every cycle people are looking for new, bright candidates. Well, you don’t get no brighter than a brain surgeon,” Adams said while awaiting for Carson to speak. Adams said that Carson may not be up to speed on all things required for a presidential candidate, but said he was a “quick study.”

Bradenton resident BethAnn Drewery said a friend told her she had to come listen to Carson speak. She says she’s not sure who she’ll vote for next year since she’s not even certain of who’s all in the race.

“We don’t stand for anything independent,” Drewery said about the state of the union. “It’s all going towards helping everybody be lazy and be inadequate, not pressing on for excellence, not pressing on to be the best that, that God intended us to be.” She added without being prompted that “We didn’t have a racial issue until Obama took office. What’s up with that?”

“We had a racial issue, we were rising up, until Obama came in.” She added that it wasn’t about race, but “Who it was that was going to help the country back on track.”

Improbably, Ben Carson thinks it could be him.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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