Ben Carson, speaking in Davenport on Wednesday, said the nation is more bitterly divided politically than it has been at any time in the past 150 years.

DAVENPORT | Immediately after his remarks ended, a line formed  to meet Ben Carson.

In some cases, with books in hand, many of the more than 300 people who turned out to hear his remarks Wednesday lined up for a chance to get some one-on-one time with him.

They got it.

Posing for pictures and chatting amiably, the retired neurosurgeon took his first steps into Iowa as an official presidential candidate this week.

Carson is betting a lot of his campaign on his showing in Iowa, a state famous for retail politicking. And while polls and pundits appear to give him little chance of getting the Republican Party's presidential nomination, he told the gathering Monday that a strong grassroots effort can be successful.

"And there's nothing the media or the pundits or the political class can do about it," he said.

Carson is among the latest to join what's expected to be a large Republican presidential field, with most expected to compete in Iowa.

In his remarks, Carson said he's worried most about divisions in the country, the debt and the threat from Islamic extremists.

He spoke approvingly of a flat tax, backed term limits, including for judges, while decrying the level of corporate taxes and regulation.

He also praised home schools and backed vouchers and other mechanisms, saying it would change the public school system.

"It will force the public school system to get better or to disappear. I don't care which one they do. They can get better or they can disappear, as long as our kids get well educated," he said.

Carson also talked amply about his faith in God. And he argued divisions in the country aren't prompted by people of different political stripes but those "stoking the flames of division."

Still, he challenged the conservative crowd to engage those they disagree with. "It is important for those of us with common sense to engage those without common sense, so that it can become apparent to them that they don't have common sense," he said.

A new Quinnipiac Poll of Iowa Republicans, released Wednesday, put Carson in sixth place in Iowa. And while he trails Scott Walker, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, he was ahead of Jeb Bush, who's considered a frontrunner nationally.

Bev Koppes and Nancy Aiken, both of DeWitt, said they appreciated Carson's emphasis on a smaller government.

"He thinks like we think," Aiken said. They added his emphasis on God was important, too.

In an interview Thursday, Carson said that it's time that Republicans pick a non-traditional candidate. And he parried a question about the risk Republicans might be taking in choosing someone like him.

"I think it's just as risky to go with traditional politicians," he said. "They always say the right things and come from the right pedigree and we continue down the same road."

The Iowa Democratic Party responded to Carson's trip to Iowa by saying that while he seeks to portray himself as an outsider, he has "radically backward thinking."


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