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In N.H., Carson Campaigns On His Outsider Credentials

Jason Moon for NHPR

Retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson spent much of Wednesday campaigning in New Hampshire. Carson’s pitch to voters was simple: I may be in politics, but I’m no politician.

At events in Exeter and Durham, Carson strove to make the most of his status as a political outsider. Speaking to a large audience at a retirement community in Exeter, Carson said even he’s surprised that he’s running for office.

“To me that was like, anathema, complete filth and dishonesty," said Carson. "And it is, that’s what it is. That’s why I’m never going to be a politician.”

Now that Carson is a politician, he’s doing his best to not sound like one. He criticized leaders of both political parties, repeatedly attacked the idea of political correctness, and dismissed many current political debates as products of those he called the "purveyors of hatred."

“They want women to believe there’s a war on them, and they want us to believe that there are racial wars, and they want us to believe that there are income wars, and religious wars, and age wars, and every kind of war imaginable.”

Credit Jason Moon for NHPR

But even if Carson is fashioning himself as a different kind of Republican, his stump speech is still full of tried-and-true conservative themes: balancing the budget, reducing government regulations, and a message of personal economic responsibility that is given extra weight by his biography.

Carson took pains to address the chief concern that often comes with being a political outsider: a lack of experience. He touted the number of countries he has visited when talking foreign policy: 57. And he cited his business experience, including time on the boards of companies like Kellogg and Costco.

“So believe me, I do have economic experience," said Carson. "And those people who say, ‘He’s a doctor, he’s a neurosurgeon, he only knows that, he’s an idiot savant." They are the idiots.”

After his visit to a retirement community, Carson headed to the campus of the University of New Hampshire. But despite the demographic differences in Carson’s audiences, the appeal was the same: his lack of political baggage. More than once the phrase ‘a breath of fresh air’ was used to describe him. Kim Speckman, who saw Carson speak in Exeter, summed up the sentiments of many of those among his audiences yesterday.

“I think that probably myself and many other people are ready for a nonpolitician-politician," she said.

That "nonpolitician-politician" pitch is proving to be an asset for Carson in New Hampshire, at least for now. It’s also working for a few others. In fact, recent polls show the top three spots in the New Hampshire Republican primary occupied by candidates who have never held elected office.

Evelyn Weingartener, who saw Carson speak in Exeter, put it this way.

“The establishment has left me cold,” she said.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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