Ben Carson brought his outsider presidential campaign to San Francisco, the bastion of U.S. liberalism and a piggy bank of political donations from Silicon Valley's tech elite.
The retired neurosurgeon delivered a Libertarian-friendly message on Tuesday that included reducing government spending and using self-reliance to get ahead, while sticking to his conservative views on abortion and securing U.S. borders against illegal immigration.
“I was a radical Democrat and bought all the stuff that Democrats buy, including that Republicans were horrible, racist people,” he told a sold-out crowd of more than 500 people at the almost century-old Mark Hopkins Hotel in the city's tony Nob Hill neighborhood. “I'm also a person who believes in hard work, self-reliance and compassion for others.”
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, a fixture in the city's liberal political circles, said Carson is looking good among the prospective nominees.
“People in the world of politics are looking for something new and fresh and he represents something new and fresh,” he said in between shaking hands and greeting familiar faces in the hotel lobby ahead of the event. “When you talk about a flat tax, people become dreamy-eyed and he's got a corner on the market on that.”
A relaxed Carson, who was accompanied by his wife Candy, outlined his plan for a flat tax of 10 percent to 15 percent that would eliminate tax deductions.
America “was never built on taking and taking and dividing and redistributing,” Carson, 63, said to resounding applause during an hour-long moderated question-and-answer session hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California.
Carson's “philosophy of enabling people to succeed on their own” resonated with Nicholas Unkovic, a 64-year-old San Francisco attorney.
“I'm very impressed with him,” Unkovic said while walking out of the Peacock Court, a large ballroom with gold and ivory walls and sweeping city views. “I agree with half of what he says. I think he is naive in some ways, particularly in terms of foreign policy and immigration.”
Carson brushed off concerns about his lack of foreign policy experience at a news conference after the event.
“There's nobody who knows everything,” he said. “The people who do the best are the ones who know how to utilize experts.”
U.S. borders should be secured with a monitored wall and immigrants should be allowed to become guest workers, Carson said.
“Then you have to turn off the spigot that dispenses the goodies, including employment,” he said. “If there's nothing to come for, then people won't come.”
Almost a quarter of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. live in California, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, a non-partisan think tank.
Carson will attend a couple of fund raisers in the area and a rally in Anaheim, home to Disneyland, on Wednesday, his spokeswoman Deana Bass said.
Suddenly a top-tier candidate, Carson tied billionaire Donald Trump for the lead in an Aug. 31 Monmouth University poll, with each garnering 23 percent support from likely Republican caucus attendees. A Sept. 6 NBC News/Marist poll, meanwhile, found Carson trailing Trump by a margin of 29—23 percent in Iowa, and placing third in New Hampshire (with 11 percent support) behind Trump (28 percent) and Ohio Governor John Kasich (12 percent).
Asked by a moderator whether he'd name Trump as his vice president, “all things are possible,” Carson said with a laugh.