Can a retired neurosurgeon with no political experience win the Republican presidential nomination?
Over Memorial Day weekend, Ben Carson, the retired Johns Hopkins doctor famed for becoming the first surgeon to successfully separate Siamese twins at the head, dominated the first major poll of Republican primary candidates in the south.
Organized at the Southern Leadership Republican Conference in Oklahoma City and produced by SoonerPoll.com, Carson bested all 17 candidates, taking 25.4 percent of the total vote. Carson not only easily topped Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who finished in second with 20.5 percent of the vote, but also Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who took third with 16.6 percent, and establishment favorite Jeb Bush, who came in sixth with 4.9 percent of the tally.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came in fourth place with 5.3 percent of the vote while Texas Gov. Rick Perry finished fifth with 5 percent of the tally.
Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who earned a master’s degree from the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, finished in 10th place.
Whether Carson’s momentum can be sustained through the debate season remains to be seen, of course. Carson has shot himself in the foot several times with public remarks, comparing Obamacare to slavery and comparing homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, for example. In 2013, he canceled his scheduled commencement address at Hopkins after his remarks about same-sex marriage sparked an outcry on campus. But there’s no doubting his popularity in conservative Christian and Tea Party circles—two groups that turn out in Republican primaries. Not only could Carson do well in the first Republican primary in Iowa, he could also potentially benefit if an early “SEC primary”—the name taken from the Southeastern Conference college football league—takes shape with states such as Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee coming together to hold primaries on the same day in early March.
Carson’s quick rise to prominence in the Republican Party began after a 2013 National Prayer Breakfast speech—a setting that’s usually nonpolitical—when he sharply criticized President Obama’s heath care law and tax polices. He opened up his home and talked to Baltimore magazine about his life story in 2009.
The other significant politico with strong Baltimore ties—former mayor and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley—is expected to announce his Democratic presidential bid Saturday in Federal Hill Park.
Only time will tell whether Carson or O’Malley, who faces especially long odds against Democratic favorite Hillary Clinton, will be able to win or even significantly impact their respective primary races. But having them in the field should at least help keep things interesting for Maryland voters for the foreseeable (and long and often tedious) 2016 campaign.