NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—It's hard to miss the gospel of Ben Carson here at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, held annually just outside of Washington.
Every eager conservative activist who rides the free shuttle to the event will have to watch a video on the bus's screens of a descendant of John Philip Sousa explaining why Carson is the "the only candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton" in 2016. And the first 2,000 people who check into their hotel rooms here will find Carson on their room keys. He's on the CPAC straw poll, and his fans downstairs at the exhibition hall will tell you why he's a mathematical shoo-in for the presidency.
It's a major display in some of CPAC's most prime real estate for someone who has never held office and is not on most pundits' list of potential 2016 presidential candidates.
Before you laugh, consider this: The group that put Carson on the hotel keys has outraised Clinton's draft committee, Ready for Hillary; has been on the ground in Iowa; and is working from the playbook written by Howard Dean and Barack Obama.
It's all the work of the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, which is trying to get the conservative neurosurgeon to run for president. It's part fan club, part savvy campaign.
The case for Carson is all about math and race. Carson is African-American and his supporters think that will be his path to victory. He's "a respected figure among black Americans," the video explains, and if he can win just 17 percent of the black vote, it is "mathematically impossible" for a Democrat to win the White House.
Vernon Robinson, a former three-time congressional candidate and George H.W. Bush appointee, started the draft campaign with John Philip Sousa IV and others. He says Carson, who is scheduled to speak Saturday at CPAC, is the only candidate who can broaden the GOP base among minorities, while passing muster with conservative primary voters.
"At 17 percent, Hillary loses all of the swing states and the Roosevelt Democratic coalition is destroyed," Robinson explains. "In addition, Ben Carson is able to clearly and calmly articulate conservative positions in a way the average voter can understand.… He's the only guy who can bond with all of the American people."
The draft committee raised $2.83 million from 47,000 donors in its first six months of operation, which ended in late February. "We crushed Ready for Hillary in fundraising," Robinson gloats. The main group supporting the former secretary of State raised $1.25 million its first six months, and then $2.75 million in the next half-year.
"This isn't something that three drunks came up with at a bar," he continues.