Ben Carson visits Topeka, Overland Park on book promotion tour

Bibi Zweig, 61, takes a selfie in front of a tour bus for Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson in Topeka. Carson signed books and spoke to supporters at Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Bibi Zweig, 61, takes a selfie in front of a tour bus for Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson in Topeka. Carson signed books and spoke to supporters at Barnes & Noble bookstore. The Wichita Eagle

Terri Lower drove more than five hours so she could be the first person to have her book signed by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson when he visited Topeka on Friday.

Lower, a 67-year-old farmer from Sublette, in southwest Kansas, was joined by her daughter and three grandchildren.

“He just has the most character of anyone I’ve seen. Really he’s the most eligible for the position of president of the United States,” Lower said.

Carson, a neurosurgeon, has never held elected office. “That’s good,” Lower said. “We want someone new and fresh.”

Carson visited Topeka and Overland Park as he promoted his new book, “A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties.” It’s his second visit to Kansas in less than a month, even though the state’s presidential caucus is five months away.

“Kansas represents middle America. I mean it’s the heartland,” Carson said when asked about the importance of Kansas to his campaign. “If we have a representative-type government, you’ve got to know what all the people think. Not just the people in the big cities or the east or the west coast.”

Hundreds of people lined up to meet Carson in Topeka. Many emphasized the role his Christian faith played in garnering their support.

“This country needs what he’s bringing,” said Aaron Perry, a 45-year-old father from Topeka’s suburbs. “We’ve lost sight of our constitution and we’ve lost sight of faith in America, and he can bring both those things back.”

“He’s a black man who understands that the Confederate flag is not a racist symbol. I mean, he’s smart,” Perry added.

Timothy Jeffcoach, a 27-year-old engineering officer stationed at Fort Riley, said Carson’s faith and stance on social issues appealed to him. He pushed a stroller that carried his 8-month-old daughter and five copies of Carson’s book that he and his wife planned to give to friends and relatives.

Reg Wescott, a 61-year-old retiree from Topeka, called Carson “the one that God’s got to put in place as the next president.”

Carson has repeatedly said that God has told him to run for president.

“All of the pundits were saying it’s impossible, forget about it,” Carson said. “And so I just said, ‘Lord, if you want me to do it, you have to open the doors for me because I’m not going to bang them open.’ 

Mark Peterson, a political scientist at Washburn University, said that Kansas offers Carson a strong donor base and that he stands a strong chance of winning the state’s caucus on March 5. Kansas Republicans went for former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012.

“He’s got a message that really resonates with a particular breed of conservative,” Peterson said. He explained that Carson not having a political background especially appeals to some conservative voters.

“For the folks who swooned for Santorum and got hot for Huckabee, this is the real thing. This guy says the same thing, and his credentials clearly indicate that he is not one of those evil p-word (politicians) individuals,” Peterson said.

Carson is running second to Donald Trump in most national polls. In a poll released by Bloomberg and the Des Moines Register on Friday, he led all candidates in the early caucus state of Iowa.

“I just am who I am. I don’t try to put on any airs,” Carson said about his rising numbers in Iowa and elsewhere.

Carson’s political profile rose in recent years partly because of his staunch opposition to the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

Asked what he would install in its place, Carson touted the idea of a health savings account system that people would have from birth until death. Carson said people would be able to shift dollars to their family members, which he said would give flexibility.

Trump also made news in Kansas on Friday, though he was not in the state. The real estate magnate has paid the $15,000 filing fee to be on the ballot for the party’s caucus. He joins former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“It is my great honor to be on the ballot in the Sunflower State and I look forward to making America great again,” Trump said in a statement.

Kelly Arnold, the party’s state chair, said in an e-mail that he looks “forward to seeing him and the rest of the Republican field campaign in Kansas.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.