Washington outsiders Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina jumped into the Republican presidential race Monday, aiming to mobilize voters disgusted with government and willing to gamble on a fresh, nontraditional leader.
Carson, 63, an African-American and retired neurosurgeon, and Fiorina, 60, a former business executive, join Latinos Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in the race and help give the Republican campaign a jolt of racial, gender and political diversity. By comparison, the Democrats have a female candidate in Hillary Clinton, but no Latinos or minorities are expected to join the race.
Carson and Fiorina stand out as well for their résumés – neither has ever held public office. The Republican race could see as many as 20 prominent candidates in a field composed mostly of current or former governors or U.S. senators.
Their bids for the White House face long odds. Carson has been prone to making controversial statements that have limited his appeal to a wider audience, and Fiorina lost by 10 percentage points in her 2010 bid for a Senate seat from California.
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Carson entered the race Monday at a spirited rally in Detroit, his hometown. “I’m Ben Carson and I’m a candidate for president,” he told hundreds at the city’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, not far from a public high school named for him.
“We’re going to change the government into something that looks like a well-run business rather than a behemoth of inefficiency,” he said.
The announcement might kick off a triumphant march to the White House – or represent the high point of an improbable political career that saw Carson grab the attention of the conservative movement, skyrocket in polls, then start to fade as he engaged in his first-ever campaign.
Carson attended Yale University and received a medical degree from the University of Michigan. He became head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1984, the youngest to hold that position. In 1987, Carson got worldwide fame for successfully separating conjoined twins joined at the head.
He retired in 2013 and became a favorite on the conservative political circuit for his criticisms of President Barack Obama and his pointed jabs at Washington.
His political fame soared two years ago, when he spoke at a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. As Obama sat over Carson’s shoulder, he tore into the president’s healthcare law. He blasted the tax system and charged that “the PC police are out at all times.”
Conservatives were ecstatic and fans formed a committee to draft him for the presidency.
Fiorina aimed her anti-Washington fire squarely at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton on Monday. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO cast herself as a business leader and not a politician, saying she has executive experience making “a tough call in a tough time.”
She said she understands how the economy works.
“Our founders never intended us to have a professional political class,” Fiorina said in a 60-second announcement video, which opens with a clip of Clinton announcing her run for the presidency. “We know the only way to reimagine our government is to reimagine who is leading it.”
Fiorina has earned kudos from Republican voters for sharp critiques on Clinton, who she said is “not trustworthy.”
Fiorina, who challenged Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in 2010, barely registers in Republican presidential polls. She noted that she announced her bid in California a year before the election, even as she was recovering treatment for cancer.
“Nobody gave me a chance; I was nowhere in the polls,” she said. “Seven months later, I won a three-way primary with 57 percent of the vote.”
She said that despite the general election loss, “I’ve demonstrated that I can unify the party, reach beyond the party.”