Ben Carson pulls crowd to its feet

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson (R) delivered a rousing speech to the conservative faithful, earning the first standing ovation of the day at the Iowa Freedom Summit and showing why he's generating buzz with conservative activists.

Carson, the first of many potential White House contenders to speak, walked the audience through his humble beginnings as he casually paced the stage. The former Johns Hopkins University pediatric neurosurgeon earned nods and laughter as he talked about growing up poor in Detroit and the sacrifices his mom made to help him succeed.

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Carson then pivoted to red-meat, using a a soft-spoken and folksy style that belied some of his rhetoric to blast ObamaCare and attack illegal immigration.

Carson has polled well in early-caucus Iowa, and local strategists say he shouldn't be dismissed as a potential player. His speech showed why.

"I don't believe in taking the most important thing a person has, which is their health, and putting it in the hands of the government," he said to strong murmers of approval.

"Do we have an illegal immigration problem?" he asked a minute later, as the crowd yelled back "yes."

"Can we fix it?"

"Yes!" the crowd roared.

"Of course we can," he said. "There wouldn't be people coming here if there wasn't a magnet... you have to reverse the polarity of that magnet."

But the former doctor and Fox News commentator may need to sharpen his policy chops if he wants to become a top-tier player. Carson struggled at times through a post-speech press availability, offering vague answers on a number of topics and refusing to answer how he thinks abortion should be criminalized.

Carson also criticized political correctness as he answered a question about gay marriage — and followed up by flaunting decorum with the type of comment that endears him with the base but could hurt his cross-party appeal.

"What I have a problem with is when people try to force people to act against their beliefs because they say 'they're discriminating against me.' So they can go right down the street and buy a cake, but no, let's bring a suit against this person because I want them to make my cake even though they don't believe in it. Which is really not all that smart because they might put poison in that cake," he said to chuckles from some of his staff and dead silence from the journalists in the room.