Andrew Dys

Carson in Rock Hill: Candidate says what the faithful want to hear

aburriss@heraldonline.com

Ben Carson never raised his voice in an arena built for loud shouts – and the five people in Section 101, Row E, seats 1 through 5, loved him for the gentleness.

In this row of seats – some of the best in the house – sat the people Carson needs to win over if he is going to win in South Carolina’s primary Feb. 20. This is a state where conservatism and Christianity are often the top two requirements for any victory for a Republican. And here sat a mother in seat 1, two students and first-time voters in seats 2 and 3, and a retired couple in seats 4 and 5.

Ben Carson never broke a sweat in an arena where athletes sweat all the time – and the row of strangers who became friends because of the candidate were thankful for it.

Ben Carson, who has never run for office until now, was exactly who these people want.

Despite so many questions about Carson’s fuzzy knowledge of politics, the 2,000-plus people at the Winthrop Coliseum on Wednesday, including the five who filled the seats of Section 101, Row E, didn’t ask the retired doctor about it and didn’t care. They wanted to see and hear a man who, like them, is an out-front Christian, a person who, like them, is conservative against big government, and a man who could care less what people think about it.

“Dr. Carson did a great job, he said what I came here to hear,” said Lori Sutton, the mother in seat 1. “He is a man of faith, family and believes in education as the key to all success. He believes in ‘we the people’ and said that the people are the country, not the government.”

Carson during his 45 minutes on stage was a conservative encyclopedia. He slammed the “tyranny of the political class and the media” who he says want to keep the country stalled in a funk while he as a conservative wants to unleash American exceptionalism again. He railed against evolution, saying how he believes God created all animal species. He spoke about the people escaping government control of lives. He called a climate change summit where the current president went recently “absurd.”

Carson told the crowd he has been subjected to far more prejudice for being conservative in America than for being black in America.

Winthrop University students Tristan Whitaker and Kirsten Squires, conservatives in their teens and ready to vote in the primary and general election in 2016 for the first time, were thrilled with Carson’s proud and bold faith.

“He has very firm beliefs – he is consistent and always stays true to who he is,” Whitaker said. “That’s what I am looking for.”

Squires, who will turn 18 in time to vote, called Carson, who was born poor, “a visionary” America needs to move forward. Carson’s quip that America is “a can-do” country and not a “what can someone do for you” country really hit home for Squires.

“His faith is real, you can tell he has it,” Squires said. “And the can-do statement. That’s true. He means that anyone can do anything – but you have to do it. This country needs a person like him.”

At the end of the little row just off the floor of the coliseum was married couple Sheila Schoening and Joe Merritt.

Schoening is a retired businessperson who believes in the free market as the only way to prosperity.

“America can’t keep writing a check to take care of every expense for everyone else,” said Schoening, who also likes Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. “Mr. Carson understands that when he talked about how the debt needs to be handled.”

Merritt is a retired Navy veteran who served two tours in Vietnam and who also likes conservative Ted Cruz. Carson’s commitment to “personal responsibility” is important, Merritt said.

“He did a good job today,” Merritt said of Carson.

Yet what was so striking about Carson was evident with this short row of five people bunched together at the coliseum is they never met before the event. Sutton, the mother, the two Winthrop students and the retired couple were strangers before the town hall forum. Yet they talked to each other before and afterward and clapped for the same things.

They found they share what they want in their country – and believe Ben Carson can give it to them. The older people told the younger people about responsibility and how to have success in life. The teens talked of how they hope to be great if government stays off their backs.

“Dr. Carson is a unifier,” said Squires, the college freshman ready to cast her first vote. “Look at us here together talking. We all want the same things. And he is the one to deliver.”

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065

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