Ben Carson forms presidential exploratory committee

Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson has filed paperwork to create a presidential exploratory committee, making him the first high-profile Republican candidate to begin raising money for a potential White House bid.

Carson filed the paperwork with the Federal Election Commission late Monday.

“For the next few months, Dr. Carson looks forward to listening to the American people to gauge support for a presidential candidacy,” said Terry Giles, who was recently named campaign chairman. “Obviously, this is a very big step.”

The 63-year-old Carson rose to national prominence after criticizing President Obama's health care law at the 2013 National Prayer breakfast. He quickly developed a loyal following among the GOP's most conservative voters.

Similar to a presidential campaign committee, an exploratory committee allows Carson to begin raising money for a White House bid.

While popular among conservatives, Carson remains largely unknown to many voters.

"We realize we have to build a bridge from the far right to what I call the center-Democrats," Giles said.

Carson finished fourth in a 2016 GOP presidential straw poll at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest annual gathering of conservative activists. He finished behind Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Carson's committee on Tuesday announced the names of several people to its senior political team including Ed Brookover as a senior strategist. Brookover previously worked on various Washington-based Republican campaign committees.

The committee also announced that Doug Watts will be Carson America's communications director, overseeing media, advertising and social media activities, according to the committee.

Watts has directed dozens of legislative, congressional and initiative campaigns, including the advertising programs for Reagan-Bush '84.

The committee has already hired former Newt Gingrich aide Ruth Sherlock to serve as state director in South Carolina; Jeff Reeter, of Houston, to be national finance chairman; and Mike Murray to run small-dollar fundraising, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Murray is the chief executive officer of direct marketing company TMA Direct Inc.

Carson also will soon likely name a communications director, campaign manager and two deputy campaign managers, Giles said, adding that they are also building teams in Iowa and South Carolina.

His national headquarters will be in the Virginia suburbs just outside Washington.

While the exploratory committee doesn't compel Carson to run, he is expected to launch a formal campaign in late spring.

"I'm certainly very hopeful that he will announce in May," Giles said. "I think there's a great likelihood he will."

Before he retired, Carson was the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.