Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, who both entered the competition for the Republican presidential nomination on Monday, are each basing their candidacies on nontraditional résumés.
Washington outsiders Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina jumped into the Republican presidential race Monday, aiming to mobilize voters disgusted with government and willing to gamble on a fresh, nontraditional leader.
Carson, 63, an African American and retired neurosurgeon, and Fiorina, 60, a former business executive, join Latinos Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in the race and help give the Republican campaign a jolt of racial, gender and political diversity. By comparison, the Democrats have a female candidate in Hillary Rodham Clinton, but no Latinos or minorities are expected to join the race.
Republicans have acknowledged a pressing need to broaden the party’s appeal beyond its traditional base of older, white men. President Obama won re-election in 2012 with the strong support of women and ethnic minorities, who are becoming a larger portion of the American electorate. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is expected to announce his candidacy Tuesday.
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Carson and Fiorina stand out as well for their résumés — neither has ever held public office. The Republican race could see as many as 20 prominent candidates in a field composed mostly of current or former governors or U.S. senators.
Their bids for the White House face long odds. Carson has been prone to making controversial statements that have limited his appeal to a wider audience, while Fiorina lost by 10 percentage points in her 2010 bid for a U.S. Senate seat from California.
Carson entered the race Monday at a spirited rally in Detroit, his hometown. “I’m Ben Carson and I’m a candidate for president,” he told hundreds at the city’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, not far from a public high school named for him.
“We’re going to change the government into something that looks like a well-run business rather than a behemoth of inefficiency,” he said.
The announcement might kick off a triumphant march to the White House — or represent the high point of an improbable political career that saw Carson grab the attention of the conservative movement, skyrocket in polls, then start to fade as he engaged in his first-ever campaign.
Carson attended Yale University and received a medical degree from the University of Michigan. He became head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1984, the youngest to hold that position. In 1987, Carson got worldwide fame for successfully separating conjoined twins joined at the head.
His career was notable enough to inspire the 2009 movie “Gifted Hands,” with actor Cuba Gooding Jr. depicting Carson.
He retired in 2013 and became a favorite on the conservative political circuit for his criticisms of Obama and his pointed jabs at Washington.
His political fame soared two years ago, when he spoke at a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. As Obama sat over Carson’s shoulder, he tore into the president’s health-care law. He blasted the tax system and charged that “the PC police are out at all times.”
Conservatives were ecstatic. Fans formed a committee to draft him for the presidency. Carson became a columnist for The Washington Times and a Fox News commentator. The draft committee organized weekly phone calls to organize and raised more than $13 million.
Yet he has stumbled at times in the glare of national politics. He has suggested the Affordable Care Act is the worst thing since slavery, compared present-day America to Nazi Germany, and called problems at the nation’s Veterans Affairs hospitals “a gift from God” because they revealed holes in the country’s effort to care for former members of the military.
Fiorina on Monday aimed her anti-Washington fire squarely at Clinton, the Democratic front-runner. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO cast herself as a business leader and not a politician, saying she has executive experience making “a tough call in a tough time.”
Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” she said she understands “executive decision-making” and how the economy works.
“Our founders never intended us to have a professional political class,” Fiorina said in a 60-second announcement video, which opens with a clip of Clinton announcing her run for the presidency. “We know the only way to re-imagine our government is to re-imagine who is leading it.”
Fiorina has earned kudos from Republican voters for sharp critiques of Clinton, who she said is “not trustworthy.”
Fiorina, who challenged Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in 2010, barely registers in Republican presidential polls. She noted that she announced her bid in California just a year before the election, even as she was recovering from treatment for cancer.
“Nobody gave me a chance, I was nowhere in the polls,” she said. “Seven months later, I won a three-way primary with 57 percent of the vote.”
She said that despite the general-election loss, “I’ve demonstrated that I can unify the party, reach beyond the party.”
Fiorina has attracted appreciative audiences in trips to Iowa and New Hampshire and is starting to replace memories of her “underwhelming” 2010 Senate bid with “strong, finessed criticism” of Clinton, said Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler.
Her low poll numbers could keep her out of the Republican debates when they begin in August, but Fiorina said she was “reasonably confident” she’d make the cut and appear on stage.
Fiorina touted her technology prowess, but that didn’t prevent her fledgling campaign from making a tech mistake when it neglected to register the domain carlyfiorina.org. Someone else did and used the site to hammer Fiorina on the layoffs she oversaw during her tenure at Hewlett-Packard.
Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager, Sarah Isgur Flores, said she was confident people would find their way to the correct site.
There are signs that a Carson candidacy could explode online. A super-political-action committee pushing him to run has raised about $13.5 million in less than two years.
Carson’s exploratory committee collected more than $2 million in its first 28 days from almost 40,000 donors, according to Mike Murray, a senior adviser to the campaign. The campaign has averaged about 1,000 new donors a day in recent weeks.
Fiorina enters the race with a key financial strength: her own bank account.
When the Hewlett-Packard board fired her in 2005, it sent her on her way with a $21 million severance package. Five years later, she paid almost $6.8 million out of pocket to run against Boxer. (The campaign paid back about $1.5 million.)
Fiorina’s financial disclosures for that race showed her net worth between $30 million and $120 million.