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Ben Carson enters growing field for GOP nomination

Dr. Ben Carson, the celebrated pediatric neurosurgeon who spent his career at Johns Hopkins Hospital before becoming a darling of conservative voters, said Sunday he will seek the Republican nomination for president next year.

Carson, a former Baltimore County resident, told an Ohio television station that he will formally announce his campaign in Detroit on Monday. He will become the fourth Republican to enter the race.

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"I'm willing to be a part of that equation and therefore I am announcing my candidacy for president of the United States of America," Carson told WKRC-TV in Cincinnati in an interview that aired Sunday night.

"Many people have suggested to me that I should run for president, even though I'm not a politician," he added.

Carson is one of several people with Maryland ties who has been thinking about a presidential campaign. Former Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat whose second term in the state house ended in January, has been the most aggressive in visiting early primary states. O'Malley has said he will announce his decision later this month in Baltimore.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has also visited New Hampshire, though the Republican has made little effort at fundraising or hiring a staff that would be needed to sustain a campaign beyond the flirting stage.

Carson, a 63-year-old Florida resident who has never before run for office, saw his political star rise after he delivered a fiery address at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in 2013. He criticized President Barack Obama's policies a few feet from the president at the traditionally nonpartisan event; talk of a possible White House run began soon thereafter.

His announcement on Monday had been widely anticipated, but his decision to preempt the news with a local television station came as a surprise.

A spokeswoman for Carson did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.

Carson's rhetoric has fired up conservatives, but his language has sometimes been divisive. When discussing his concern that American voters are afraid to speak their minds or engage in politics, he likened the United States to Nazi Germany. He has described Obama's health care law as the worst thing that has happened to the country since slavery.

Carson came under fire in 2013 when he introduced bestiality and the North American Man/Boy Love Association into a Fox News discussion of same-sex marriage — likening them to homosexuality. The backlash led Carson to withdraw as commencement speaker at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

He has sometimes apologized for his words, including a statement on CNN earlier this year that being gay is a choice. At other times he has blamed a "liberal, [politically correct]-obsessed" media for harping on the comments.

It's the latter approach that has generally worked to elevate his profile with tea party voters.

Carson has spoken of campaigning for president as a calling, and himself as a reluctant draftee.

"The possibility of running for high public office is not something that thrills me, to be honest with you," Carson told The Baltimore Sun in an interview late last year. "I also recognize that sometimes you just have to deal with the situation that you've been thrust into."

Carson faces significant challenges to running a credible campaign. For starters, there are other conservatives already in the race — and Carson has been hesitant to draw lines of distinction with them. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have announced their campaigns in recent weeks.

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Other prominent GOP figures, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, are also expected to run.

Though he lacks political experience, Carson may have the best personal story of any candidate from either party. Born into poverty in Detroit, Carson initially struggled academically. But he went on to graduate from Yale and the University of Michigan's medical school.

At 33, he was named director of pediatric neurosurgery at Hopkins, 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.

His first book, "Gifted Hands," was made into a television movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. In the book, Carson describes how he overcame early struggles with school and anger through a love of learning and faith.

He attributes his politics to his upbringing, often describing his neighborhood culture as one where residents celebrated any new announcement of government support. Still, he acknowledges that his mother received welfare aid, and he insists that he supports "a safety net for the people who need a safety net."

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

Most recently, Carson has spoken out on the unrest in Baltimore, where residents have protested and rioted in the wake of Freddie Gray's death from a spinal injury he suffered in police custody. In a Time op-ed, Carson decried the protests and related vandalism as "gross misconduct."

Carson is a staunch social conservative, opposing abortion rights and same-sex marriage, views he attributes to his personal faith as a practicing Christian.

He has more complex views on health care and foreign policy, including statements that could put him at odds with the most conservative branches of his party.

He opposes the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature legislative achievement. Yet Carson also has blasted for-profit insurance companies, called for stricter regulations — including of prices — of health care services, and said government should offer a nationalized insurance program for catastrophic care.

Carson pitches himself as a strong supporter of Israel in its disputes with other Middle Eastern nations, and he has hammered Obama on his dealings in the region. But in his earlier writings, Carson criticized the United States for historically being too eager to wage war.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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