By Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel (TNS)
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As he adjusted to his new status as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in a slew of polls, Ben Carson on Thursday attracted increased attention from the news media and hundreds of fans to his book tour stop in the most Democratic territory in Florida.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has never before run for office, demonstrated just how unorthodox he is as a politician. Speaking to reporters during a break from signing books, he repeated some of the details of from his background as a troubled youth growing up in Detroit.
“I was a person who was normally a pretty nice person. I would fly off the handle at times and do very outrageous things,” said Carson. “I tried to stab someone. That’s probably the most outrageous thing. I accidentally, you know, put a gash in somebody’s forehead because when I hit him I didn’t realize I had the rock in my hand. I broke somebody’s glasses and injured them with a big rock.”
On more conventional political ground, he stepped cautiously about two issues important to South Florida: whether he’d favor ending what is known as the “wet foot, dry foot policy,” which allows Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil to remain in this country as refugees and changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives Cubans residency status and a pathway to citizenship. In October, the Sun Sentinel published a series called “Easy Money,” revealing how some Cubans cash in on U.S. welfare and return to the island, making a mockery of the decades-old premise that they are refugees fleeing persecution at home.
“What we need to be asking ourselves is how do we make sure that Cuban refugees are treated fairly, without allowing people to take advantage of our generosity. That should be the overarching message, and whatever policies we have should pertain to that,” Carson said.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week showed Carson in first place with the support of 29 percent of Republican primary voters nationwide. That moved him up in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, which now has Carson slightly ahead of Donald Trump, 24.8 percent to 24.6 percent.
The two non-politicians, Carson and Trump, are well ahead of the Florida candidates with lots of political experience, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (11 percent) and former Gov. Jeb Bush (5.8 percent).
Carson’s campaign has requested, and he said Thursday he would shortly receive, Secret Service protection. He declined to go into the nature of the threats that made his campaign seek, and the Secret Service to grant, that level of protection.
Carson’s rising poll numbers have also brought heightened scrutiny:
CNN examined Carson’s claims in his 1990 autobiography that he was a violent, angry young man who had an uncontrollable, “pathological temper” until he had an epiphany and turned around his life. CNN reported Thursday that friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with him had “no memory of the anger or violence the candidate has described.”
Carson said that wasn’t surprising. “Unless they were there at that time, how would they know about that? That’s really silly. Everybody has childhood memories of things that they do that other people, unless they were specifically involved, wouldn’t know about. I don’t know why that is hard for people to understand.”
Buzzfeed’s posting video Wednesday of a Carson speech 17 years ago about Egypt’s great pyramids continued to generate questions. He said in the speech that he believed the pyramids were built to store grain, rather than burial places for pharaohs, and he reaffirmed that view Thursday in Fort Lauderdale.
Carson said his view of the pyramids is “a plausible explanation. It’s a personal belief. Because I happen to believe a lot of things you might not happen to believe because I believe in the Bible.”
Carson’s words were recorded by a throng of reporters, photographers and videographers. He said the scrutiny he’s receiving “may be a little more intense than most people because it’s going to be really hard for them to find any real scandals, so they’re going to have to try to make stuff up.”
Carson supporter Peter Palmer, of Coral Springs, isn’t bothered by anything he’s now hearing about his preferred candidate for the Republican nomination. “Based on what I’ve seen, they bring out weird things from 100 years ago,” he said. “He’s the best option we have of the current candidates.”
Palmer said his dream ticket is Carson and Trump running together for president and vice president.
Lisa Lewis drove with her husband David and daughter, Alessandra, 16, from Port St. Lucie to see Carson.
“I love his ideas. I think he’s the epitome of the American dream. He worked really hard to get where he is now,” she said. The heightened scrutiny is “part of the game. I love the way he handles it.”
Earlier Thursday, he signed books in Kendall. After about an hour and a half, he headed for another signing in Boca Raton on a day that brought him close to home in West Palm Beach, where he retired after his career as a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
In an interview this week with the Sun Sentinel, Carson said as a presidential candidate, he makes it home only a couple of times a month. On Friday night, Carson is the keynote speaker at a dinner in Palm Beach Gardens sponsored by the Black Republican Caucus of South Florida.
(c)2015 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the Heritage Action for America presidential candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina, September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane