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Ben Carson officially ends campaign: What next?

Ben Carson built a broad grassroots following, especially among evangelicals, but 'they just won't vote for me,' he announced at CPAC.

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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Friday, March 4, 2016, in National Harbor, Md.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson officially ended his White House bid on Friday.

"There are a lot of people who love me, they just won't vote for me," said Dr. Carson at the Conservative Political Action Conference in a speech that received a standing ovation.

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His official statement did not refer to any other candidate by name, but nonetheless included some gentle barbs apparently directed at the brash Republican front-runner, businessman Donald Trump. 

"I hope my presence added a measure of civility to the race," he said. "Many today are making decisions based on fear and anger."

He declined to endorse any of his competitors, but urged his fellow Republicans to choose based on "how they treat their family and others ... how they collaborate with others ... their ethics, because what America needs is 'Trickle-down ethics.' "

He added, "Conservatives should not be embarrassed by capitalism, but must couple it with compassion, to lift people out of a culture of dependency and provide ladders of opportunity for all Americans to be a part of the fabric of society." 

Carson had announced on Wednesday that he did "not see a political path forward" in his campaign for the party's nomination. That was a blow to his supporters, who his campaign manager Barry Bennett described as some of the most enthusiastic participants at conservative gatherings like CPAC.

As The Christian Science Monitor's Linda Feldman wrote Wednesday:

The big question now is, for whom do Carson supporters vote in the 35 states that have yet to hold their primaries and caucuses? ...

Carson supporters might be a natural fit for Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas. Both men have made outreach to evangelical voters, a key portion of the Republican base, a centerpiece of their campaigns....

Cruz might have done even better with Carson supporters in the poll, had his campaign not spread rumors that Carson was planning to drop out as the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses were about to start. The mild-mannered Carson was furious over what he called a “dirty trick”; Cruz initially denied wrong-doing, then apologized to Carson for what he called a “mistake” by staff.

Last fall, Carson spent weeks at or near the top of the Republican field, and his campaign raised millions of dollars. In his departure statement, he boasted that his "movement consistently outraised the entire Republican field."

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As the Monitor's Peter Grier wrote in December, when Carson threatened to run as an independent:

Carson, like Trump, has a committed core of supporters. The ex-surgeon is popular with evangelicals, home schoolers, and self-described very conservative voters. And in an America where presidential voting is almost evenly split between the two parties, even a few percentage points shaved off Republican support in key states could tip the balance of national power.

Moving forward, Carson said, he "will continue to work tirelessly to do everything I can to save America for the next generation ... including serving as honorary chair of My Faith Votes, a non-profit organization dedicated to mobilizing the 25 million Evangelicals who didn't vote in the last election."

The fate of Carson's eight delegates rests in the hands of the Republican Convention Rules Committee, whose rules for the 2016 convention will be published in July.