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Seeing 'no path forward,' Ben Carson signals end of campaign

Republican presidential candidate retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson speaks during an election night party in Baltimore, Tuesday, March 1, 2016. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Republican presidential candidate retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson speaks during an election night party in Baltimore, Tuesday, March 1, 2016. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

Ben Carson, the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon whose campaign for the Republican presidential nomination stalled months ago, said Wednesday that he does not "see a political path forward" and announced that he is bowing out of presidential debates.

Carson, who has failed to mount a competitive campaign in any state's primary this year, leading to a distant fifth place finish for delegates on Super Tuesday, stopped short of formally suspending his candidacy. But his statement Wednesday effectively ended his bid.

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"I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening's Super Tuesday primary results," Carson said in the statement to supporters. "However, this grass roots movement on behalf of 'We the People' will continue."

He said he would discuss his future in an address Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which will take place at National Harbor in Prince George's County.

Carson's decision came a day after billionaire Donald Trump dominated the key Super Tuesday contests, leaving Carson without much hope of gaining traction. Carson's decision to hold an election night party Tuesday in downtown Baltimore, instead of one of the states next up on the primary schedule, prompted speculation about his intentions.

As part of his announcement, Carson said he would not take part in Thursday's presidential debate in his native Detroit.

Rep. Andy Harris, the only member of Congress who endorsed Carson's campaign, blamed his expected exit on misplaced priorities in the raucous contest.

"Although Dr. Carson would make the best president, it would be an uphill struggle given the current state of the Republican primary field, and the overemphasis on debate showmanship over substance," said the Baltimore County Republican. Harris did not indicate whether he would make another endorsement.

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 broader, touching on societal problems, education and political correctness.

Carson entered the race for the Republican nomination last spring, 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, Trump entered the race.

Carson's soft-spoken addresses, delivered through parables and sprinkled with biblical references often connected with evangelicals, a particularly important voting block in Iowa, the first caucus state.

He briefly led the Republican field last fall — making him the only GOP candidate who outpolled Trump consistently for several weeks.

But his standing slipped 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. And he never recovered.

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Carson, 64, has been mentioned for months as a possible vice presidential pick. He could provide not only racial balance to a ticket, but also a temperamental and religious counter to a more bombastic candidate such as Trump.

"I'm sure Dr. Carson will be on the list for veep regardless," said Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman and Maryland lieutenant governor.

Steele predicted that Carson's supporters would likely split among Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and others.

He said Carson should be proud of the campaign he ran because he "brought some semblance of civility and authenticity to the race."

In Baltimore on Tuesday, Carson delivered a reflective, brief and subdued address to supporters, but offered little indication that he was preparing to exit the race.

At one point he said he wasn't "ready to quit trying to untangle" the "complex web" he said establishment politicians had wrapped around the race.

Early on, Carson seemed to revel in making controversial statements — against homosexuals, for instance, and Muslims — that would drive a news cycle. He would refuse to apologize and then blame the media and the "PC police" for taking his comments out of context.

With each exchange, his campaign would raise money — a lot of it. 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 $6.6 million on hand.

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

Carson also faced struggles within his campaign that sometimes spilled into public view. Top aides, including his campaign manager and spokesman, left in acrimony late last year. His fundraising was robust, but there were questions about why the campaign was burning through so much of its money so quickly.

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, he has said he was violent and rebellious, and struggled in school.

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.

Asked Tuesday if he was disappointed with the results, Carson offered the sort of humble, if quirky response that had endeared him to his supporters.

"You always want to do better."

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