Marketing wizards make millions off the movement. Is it money well spent?
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Amid the clattering circus that is CPAC, the soft-spoken neurosurgeon greeting supporters in the corner of an exhibition hall made an unlikely star. But the crowd couldn’t get enough of Dr. Ben Carson. His face was everywhere: stamped on room keys, plastered on the sides of buses and emblazoned on T-shirts. Supporters lined up for a chance to shake hands with the man who denounced Democratic policies in front of President Obama at last year’s National Prayer Breakfast.
The National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, which paid for the paraphernalia and drummed up the frenzy, is an unlikely juggernaut. It has no headquarters, few paid staffers and no known affiliation with Carson, who shows little sign of wanting to become a candidate. Yet the group has raked in $2.8 million from 47,000 donors during its first six months.
The Carson boomlet is a tribute to the enduring power of direct marketing in a conservative movement that owes its existence to the technique. These efforts have long pumped money into the party. But they have also spawned a band of consultants who tap veins of voter outrage to raise money for fringe candidates and causes, sometimes with few tangible results.