Politics & Government

Ben Carson criticizes tone of Republican campaign at town hall in Lexington

Ben Carson to Kentucky voters: 'Exercise your civic duty'

The GOP presidential hopeful talked with reporters after a town hall meeting in Lexington.
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The GOP presidential hopeful talked with reporters after a town hall meeting in Lexington.

Republican Ben Carson brought his struggling campaign for president to Lexington on Monday and used the event to denounce the recent tone of the GOP nomination battle.

At a town hall meeting at the Lexington HIT Center, in front of a crowd of about 1,000, Carson particularly criticized the tone of the most recent Republican debate, comparing it to gladiator battles in ancient Rome with crowds cheering for blood.

“I pray to God that we can wake up before it is too late,” Carson said. “I believe people are waking up and realize what is going on.”

Carson’s Kentucky visit came five days before the state’s March 5 Republican presidential caucus. GOP front-runner Donald Trump is to hold a rally Tuesday at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is to be in Lexington on Friday.

During his campaign stop, the mild-mannered Carson never criticized any opponent by name.

In his speech of about 40 minutes, Carson also told the crowd that his calm demeanor “is a sign of strength, not weakness,” in the race for president.

With a large American flag behind him and the national and state flags at his side, Carson often referred to God. “You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to talk to him. You just have to have faith,” he said.

He later said, “We in America must stop being phobic about our faith. It’s OK to live by God.”

If he becomes president, Carson said, he wants to replace the common “what-can-you-do-for-me” attitude of some people with a “can-do” attitude.

He said he has no intention of withdrawing support for people who need help, but he wants to help people become independent.

Carson said America has too many single-parent homes and too many inmates.

Throughout his campaign, Carson said, he has realized that Americans are good people. But he said too many people are frightened and angry because too many promises by politicians have been broken.

He warned that frightened and angry people generally don’t make good decisions. That’s why, he said, he was urging voters to “calm down and start thinking logically.”

The retired neurosurgeon from Detroit, who entered the presidential race last May, said many people tell him he’s too calm. He said, without referring to anyone in particular, that he doesn’t jump up and down and act like a buffoon. He said that he had a temper in his youth but that God changed him to be a better person.

Carson said he doesn’t like “to toot his own horn” but sometimes he has to in this race. He noted his education and honorary doctoral degrees.

He said every voter has the duty to go to the polls. He bemoaned that 25 million evangelicals did not vote in the 2012 presidential election.

Afterward, Carson took questions from the media.

Asked whether he thought all presidential candidates should denounce the Ku Klux Klan and former Klan leader David Duke, Carson said he personally denounced the Klan. But he declined to address other candidates. Trump has drawn fire in recent days for his refusal during an interview on CNN to denounce Duke’s endorsement.

Carson said the biggest concern for Kentuckians is the same for all Americans: financial concerns.

Concerning his race, he said he sees momentum growing.

On Tuesday, 11 states will cast ballots for president, giving Trump a chance to solidify his grip on the GOP nomination.

Recent polls show Carson in a battle with Ohio Gov. John Kasich for a distant fourth place in what is now a field of five contenders.

As Carson speech began Monday morning, about 100 people were still waiting to go through a security checkpoint. Some resorted to watching a live stream on their phones.

Mason Stout and Jose Herrera, 17, missed school in Somerset to drive up for the town hall. The boys were among the last of about 30 people to get in, around 10:50 a.m.

Stout and Herrera said they lean toward Democrat Hillary Clinton, especially on social issues and immigration. But they plan to go to Trump’s rally in Louisville on Tuesday. They said they were disappointed to hear only Carson’s closing remarks.

“His views are a lot different than mine, but it’s always interesting to hear other people and see how they feel,” Herrera said.

Mason Sims of Hopkinsville, a University of Kentucky freshman majoring in political science and journalism, said Kentucky’s caucus “already has brought much attention of the presidential race to the state.”

He said he wanted to hear Carson but was leaning toward Rubio.

Joy C. Durkin of Lexington called Carson “a very smart man.”

“Even if he doesn’t get the Republican nomination, I think he will play some role in a Republican administration,” she said.

Herald-Leader reporter Michael McKay contributed to this report.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics

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