Inside the effort to draft Ben Carson for 2016

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Alex Pappas
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      Alex Pappas

      Alex Pappas is a Washington D.C.-based political reporter for The Daily Caller. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and the Mobile Press-Register. Pappas is a graduate of The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he was editor-in-chief of The Sewanee Purple. While in college, he did internships at NBC's Meet the Press and the White House. He grew up in Mobile, Ala., where he graduated from St. Paul's Episcopal School. He and his wife live on Capitol Hill.

Right after the news broke last summer that a super PAC had been formed to encourage Ben Carson to run for president in 2016, the neurosurgeon was quickly booked for an evening interview with Greta Van Susteren.

As the Fox News host started asking Carson questions, the men behind the new super PAC were getting nervous.

One of the organizers was John Philip Sousa, IV, the great-grandson of the American composer and a conservative activist. Another was Vernon Robinson, a former Republican officeholder who has been involved in politics in North Carolina for decades.

“In the next ten seconds, the draft effort could be over,” Robinson recalls thinking to himself at the time. The ink was hardly dry on the papers he had filed only a week earlier on Aug. 15 with the Federal Election Commission.

“A descendent of John Philip Sousa has registered the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee,” Van Susteren said to Carson. “What’s your response to him?”

“I love John Philip Sousa’s music,” Carson cracked, before getting serious.

“I am not going to interfere one way or another,” he said of the new super PAC. “I believe that God will make it clear to me if that’s something that I’m supposed to do.”

Robinson was jubilant.

“Not only was that a wink,” he said of Carson’s response. “That was a political wink.”

PACs are barred from coordinating with candidates — but Robinson took Carson’s comments as an implicit blessing to continue with his work.

Just six months later, the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee announced it had raised almost $3 million dollars. That’s more than double the money raised by the group drafting Hillary Clinton to run for president in their first six months, Robinson pointed out.

The PAC’s goal? Convince the former director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital that he has enough support to join the Republican race for president. They also aim to put in place some political and fundraising infrastructure for Carson if he ultimately pulls the trigger on a campaign.