Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said he will skip Thursday’s televised debate and doesn't see any “political path forward” after a poor Super Tuesday showing.
Carson stopped short of formally suspending his campaign and in a statement said his grassroots movement will continue. He’ll speak more about his plans at a conservative conference in the Washington area on Friday, he said.
Carson’s move is effectively the first consolidation of the field since Jeb Bush dropped out on Feb. 20, and comes as the Republican Party struggles with whether and how to take out billionaire front-runner Donald Trump, a task made more difficult by the size of the field and the lack of a clear alternative candidate.
An accomplished retired neurosurgeon and author of religious-themed books, Carson had hoped to consolidate evangelical Christian support in the primary, and briefly rose in the polls last fall, but his fortunes faded after weak debate performances and other stumbles.
More recently, he was locked in a weeks-long feud with rival Ted Cruz over what Carson described as dirty campaign tactics. That included Cruz allies stoking speculation on the night of the Iowa caucuses that Carson was dropping out.
The Cruz camp’s attempt to patch things up didn’t pan out and Carson campaigned through Super Tuesday despite poor showings in the early contests.
Carson, 64, was the lone African-American major candidate in the 2016 White House race, and one of three political newcomers to seek the Republican Party’s nod in year dominated by voters showing a preference to outsiders.
He gained a following of conservatives in 2013 after he condemned President Barack Obama's policies at the National Prayer Breakfast as the president sat nearby.
He grew up in a one-parent home in Detroit—where Thursday’s debate is to be held—and went on to a groundbreaking medical career and, later, a busy schedule as a motivational speaker. The actor Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed Carson in the 2009 biographical film Gifted Hands.
Strong grassroots support propelled Carson into the presidential race, and robust fundraising helped him stay there even after more experienced politicians such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Governors Rick Perry of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana exited.
His campaign lost momentum after a series of seemingly uninformed statements on foreign policy, questions about whether details in his biography were accurate, and public feuding and departures among staff and allies. Soft-spoken, Carson often joked during debates that he never got called on.
Those stumbles gave rise to strange moments in an unpredictable race, such as when Trump challenged—complete with re-enactment—Carson's story about trying to stab someone during his youth, comparing his rival to a pathological child molester.
Carson had raised $5 million in February, Politico reported Wednesday. In his statement, Carson said he was grateful that “my campaign decisions are not constrained by finances; rather by what is in the best interests of the American people.”
“Along with millions of patriots who have supported my campaign for President, I remain committed to Saving America for Future Generations,” the statement said.