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Ben Carson sees no path forward; says he'll skip next Republican debate

Ben Carson sees no path forward; says he'll skip next Republican debate

Dr. Ben Carson, the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon whose campaign for the GOP presidential nomination has faltered in recent months, said Wednesday that he does not "see a political path forward" and is bowing out of this week's presidential debate.

Carson, who finished a distant fifth place on Super Tuesday and who failed to mount a competitive campaign in any early state, technically did not announce he is suspending his candidacy, though the tone of the statement appeared to effectively end his run.

"I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening’s Super Tuesday primary results," Carson said in a statement, adding that he would speak to his future further in an address on Friday. "However, this grassroots movement on behalf of 'We the People' will continue."

The statement came a day after Donald Trump dominated the key Super Tuesday contests, leaving Carson without much hope of gaining traction. Carson held his election night party in Downtown Baltimore on Tuesday -- a decision that, in itself, prompted speculation about his future.

Carson delivered a reflective, brief and subdued address to supporters, on Tuesday but offered little indication that he was exiting the race. At one point he suggested he wasn't "ready to quit trying to untangle" the "complex web" he argued establishment politicians had wrapped around the race.

"I appreciate the support, financial and otherwise, from all corners of America," Carson said in the statement on Wednesday. "Gratefully, my campaign decisions are not constrained by finances; rather by what is in the best interests of the American people."

Carson said he would not take part in Thursday's debate in his native Detroit. And he said he would offer more insight into his future at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which will take place outside of Washington in suburban Maryland. 

Carson, a trailblazing pediatric neurosurgeon at Hopkins, burst onto the political scene in 2013 with a speech at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Though observers at the time focused on his criticism of the policies of President Barack Obama, who was sitting mere feet away from the lectern, the address was more broad, touching on societal problems, education and political correctness.

“Our deficit is a big problem,” Carson said, in one of the more politically poignant sections of the speech. “We have to deal with this.”

Two years later, Carson entered the race for the Republican nomination, arguing that the nation needed an outside voice to put Washington on track. His campaign theme would later play on his career as the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Hopkins: “Heal, inspire, revive.”

He was right about the appeal of an outsider. A month later, billionaire Trump entered the race.

Early on, Carson seemed to revel in making controversial statements — against homosexuals, for instance, and Muslims — driving a news cycle, refusing to apologize and then blaming the media, and the “PC police” for taking his comment out of context.

With each exchange, his campaign would raise money — a lot of it.

When the media shifted its focus elsewhere, Carson would do it all over again.

The controversies appealed to conservative voters, fed up with the political-speak of Washington. His soft-spoken addresses, delivered through parables and sprinkled with biblical references, connected with evangelicals, a particularly important voting block in Iowa.

After a summer in which Trump had dominated the field, Carson found himself leading the pack in early nominating states and national polling briefly last fall.

But in an election cycle when politics has been unpredictable and conventional wisdom has felt passé, Carson's slide followed a well-worn path.

First, questions were raised about the sometimes miraculous stories he wrote about in his 1992 book “Gifted Hands,” particularly an assertion that he had been offered a scholarship to West Point, without having actually applied.

Carson slipped further after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. The killings left voters uneasy, and Carson's meandering answers on international affairs did little to ease their fears.

Though Carson was an in-demand speaker before he launched the campaign his debate performances were widely viewed as lackluster.

He finished a distant fourth in Iowa, capturing less than 10 percent of the vote in a state that should have been a stronghold. Polls predicted an even bleaker outcome in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

His top aides, including his campaign manager and spokesman, left in acrimony late last year. His fundraising, while robust, prompted questions about why the campaign was burning through so much of its money so quickly.

The Carson campaign raised $22.6 million in the final three months of 2015, but it spent a staggering $27.3 million, to end the year with only $6.6 million on hand.

What Carson lacked in political experience, he tried to make up for with an inspiring personal story and medical career.

Born into poverty in Detroit, Carson struggled academically and has said he was violent and rebellious. He credited his mother and his faith with helping him to graduate from Yale and the University of Michigan's medical school.

At 33, he was named director of pediatric neurosurgery at Hopkins, which made him the youngest person to lead a major division at the institution. He won international acclaim in 1987 when he became the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head.

Carson, who is African-American, has become a forceful critic of the nation's first black president. A regular guest on Fox News, Carson also offers himself as a counter to other notable African-American commentators with more liberal views.

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