Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson told a friendly crowd at a well-known Virginia Baptist college Wednesday that they must be on guard for "propaganda" as the 2016 campaign intensifies.
Carson, who draws considerable support from evangelical Christians, told about 12,000 people at Liberty University that, "many in the media want to bring me down, because I represent something that they can't stand."
His statement comes after a week of reports questioning various parts of the personal narrative that has helped propel the retired neurosurgeon to the forefront of the Republican primary field.
The candidate did not venture into the details of those stories Wednesday, which he dismissed with humor Tuesday night in Milwaukee at the GOP's fourth primary debate. "Thank you for not asking me what I said in the 10th grade. I appreciate that," he told the moderators. He added, "People who know me know that I'm an honest person."
Tuesday night during the fourth GOP presidential debate, Carson said he'd faced lies about his life story and has undergone unprecedented public scrutiny. Among the questions about his autobiography have been his statements that he was offered a scholarship to West Point. Carson did not apply to the U.S. Military Academy, which does not offer scholarships. West Point does not charge tuition or fees to those who receive an appointment to attend the school.
Carson's campaign has said he was a top ROTC student in high school, and his supervisors told him they could help him get an appointment.
In Virginia Wednesday, Carson instead stuck mostly to his standard campaign speech, framing it for his young crowd. The nation's fiscal balance sheet, he warned, is a mortal threat.
"We have a little time to get our house in order, but not a lot of time," he said. "The financial situation is very precarious. If we don't do something about it soon, and it collapses, what happened in 1929 on Wall Street will be a walk in the park."
He pitched his flat tax proposal, which is based loosely on the biblical concept of tithing. "The reason I liken it to tithing is because I believe God is the fairest individual there is," he said.
Carson aides promise that he will unveil a detailed tax-and-budget plan in the coming weeks. He repeated Wednesday that he would do away with the most popular personal income tax deductions, those for mortgage interest and charitable contributions. And he said he'd maintain a "rebate" for taxpayers "at the poverty level," but was not specific.
Never having run for office, Carson has joined another electoral novice, businessman Donald Trump, at the top of polls both nationally and in early voting states.
Carson did not mention any of his Republican opponents at Liberty, and only indirectly cast aspersions on a Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders. Carson mocked the Vermont senator's proposal to make public colleges tuition-free. Many voters like such ideas, Carson said, but "they have no idea that all you're talking about is hastening the destruction of the nation."
Liberty sophomore Aimee Fehr of Louisa, Virginia, said Carson "is extremely popular" on the campus, founded in 1971 by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., who also led the Moral Majority conservative movement.
"Our country was founded on faith, on godly principles," said Fehr, an elementary education major who plans to cast her first presidential ballot next year. "That's slowly fading away. ... I think this country needs a revival."
Carson on Wednesday made multiple references to his faith and the role of religion in American society. He reprised his oft-repeated mockery of the established conclusions of evolutionary biology. "It requires a lot more faith than what I believe," he said.
He asked students to pray for "wisdom" for his family and "for the eyes of the nation to be opened to what's going on."
Carson's appearance comes almost seven months after he withdrew from a speaking slot in front of another Southern Baptist group. Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference asked Carson in April to abandon a speaking slot in front of the clergy group. He agreed.
Some Baptists at the time cited theological disagreements with Carson, who is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And some in the group argued that it was inappropriate for the church to host a current presidential candidate, regardless of the candidate's political or religious beliefs.