LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Ben Carson’s genial way of politicking is proving to be a draw for voters who like Donald Trump’s status as an outsider but not his belligerence.
The retired neurosurgeon is emerging in polls as a top-tier candidate in the 17-person Republican presidential field, but that rise is being eclipsed by Trump and his headline-grabbing rhetoric and feuds. The soft-spoken Carson is quick to joke about how little attention his approach is getting.
“There are so many things we can do,” Carson told more than 2,000 gathered in front of the Arkansas state Capitol on Thursday. “I’ve written about them and I’ll continue to write about them and talk about them.” He added: “I hope we’ll get a chance during the next debate to actually talk about them.”
Carson and other rivals were overshadowed by Trump in the first debate, earlier this month.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to get to talk again,” Carson cracked at the time.
Like Trump, the former head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins presents himself as someone who can offer solutions that traditional politicians can’t. He’s gained a following among conservatives for his background in medicine, as well as his speeches and books.
But he’s also winning over voters who see him as the anti-Trump, someone with a similar philosophy but not the rough edges. Trump has courted controversy since entering the race in June with comments like calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, and his clashes with a variety of GOP and news media figures.
“I like Trump, I like what he says, but you can’t buy class,” said Linda Sontchi, a farmer and rancher from Ozark. “He’s liable to tell the queen of England that she’s a bimbo or something.”
She’s supporting Carson, who’s “got class.”
Paul Wallace, a retired lab technician from Little Rock, said he was also likely to support Carson after hearing him in person.
“He says what he believes in without being brash about it,” Wallace said.
During his 37-minute speech in Little Rock, Carson cast himself as someone not beholden to billionaire backers or special interest groups.
“I think the only special-interest group is the American people,” he said.
Carson, however, says he’s “not trying to trying to distinguish myself as the outsider.”
“I just want people to understand that you can gain experience from a variety of different life episodes, and the kind of experience we need to solve our problems does not necessarily all come from being a politician,” he told The Associated Press before his rally.
He’s also challenging what he calls a media perception of him as an “idiot savant who only knows neurosurgery, couldn’t possibly know anything about economics or foreign affairs or anything else of importance.”
Carson said the race is a marathon, not a sprint, and over time more people will discover “who I actually am.”