Ben Carson leans into 2016 presidential bid: What are his chances?

Republican Ben Carson announced Tuesday that he is forming an exploratory committee for a 2016 presidential bid. 

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Ben Carson talks with media in the hall after speaking during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Feb. 26, 2015.

Retired neurosurgeon and Tea Party darling Ben Carson announced Tuesday that he is forming an exploratory committee for a 2016 presidential bid, making him one of the first 2016 Republican hopefuls to form a formal committee.

The announcement, which Carson also tweeted, comes on the heels of a number of staff hires in recent weeks and puts Mr. Carson on track to formally announce his bid in May, which he has indicated in earlier statements.

Here's what Carson brings to the race:

An incredible life story: Carson grew up in the streets of Detroit, raised by a single, illiterate mother who, according to reports, had only a third grade education, but insisted that her sons focus on their studies. Carson graduated third in his high school class, earned an academic scholarship to Yale University, and went to medical school before beginning a residency in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the late 1970s, where he was sometimes mistaken for an orderly, often the only black hospital employees at the time. He went on to became Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins.

In other words, should Carson run, he'll have a "pull yourself up from the bootstraps" aura, and dynasty won't be a concern.

Conservative credentials: Carson rose to stardom at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, where he coolly excoriated progressive taxation and the Affordable Healthcare Act, as President Obama looked on from 10 feet away, earning him the praise of such conservatives as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Neil Cavuto of Fox News.

He is also a practicing Christian and conservative commentator who is unequivocal in his opposition to gay marriage and abortion – again, distinguishing himself from more mainstream candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who may be "evolving" on same-sex marriage.

Outsider status: Unlike many of his likely co-contenders, Carson has never before held or run for public office, a potential weakness many past candidates have turned into an "outside-the-beltway" virtue. Already, his lack of political experience has made Carson a grassroots conservative star.

His supporters like to boast of his grassroots appeal: 30,000 volunteers, organizations in all 99 counties in Iowa, more than $13 million raised from 160,000 individual donors.

Diversity: Carson is something of an inspirational African American role model, and NJ.com calls him "a sort of reverse Barack Obama."

But really, does he have a chance?

He's doing a lot better than you'd imagine for someone with little name recognition and even less political experience.

At last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference's straw poll, an annual gauge of grassroots conservative sentiment, Carson placed fourth. He was behind Sen.  Rand Paul, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Sen. Ted Cruz – but ahead of Bush, who comes with gads of experience and name recognition.

But with presidential announcements come opposition research, and rivals won't have to dig much to find dirt on Carson.

In fact, he's made a number of cringe-worthy pronouncements that may make voters and GOP leaders who are concerned about electability think twice.

As FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten noted, "He has compared gay marriage to bestiality, Obamacare to slavery and nazism to the United States."

He's also defended Ray Rice, and has suggested evolution and climate change are "just propaganda."

As some other conservatives have found, what plays well with a small base of Americans doesn't necessarily lead to electoral victory later.

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