ABC The Drum

If Ben Carson's prominent role in Republican politics resonates with even a fairly small section of the African-American community as well as Tea Party conservatives, it could just tip the balance the GOP's way in 2016.

This is a story about an African-American with an inspiring biography and fine oratory skills who made his reputation with a single speech and was then urged to run for president.

It's not who you are probably thinking about, although Barack Obama was sitting two metres away when Dr Ben Carson spoke at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast that made him a conservative hero.

Carson, an internationally-renown paediatric neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins University, peering out from behind his glasses and greying beard, used measured tones as he condemned political correctness.

"P.C. is dangerous," Carson said, "because you see this country, one of the founding principles was freedom of thought and freedom of expression and it (political correctness) muffles people, it puts a muzzle on them. And at the same time keeps people from discussing important issues while the fabric of this society is being changed. And we cannot fall for that trick."

Carson was just getting started. He wasn't just against political correctness, he was against Obama's progressive agenda, and as a doctor he was particularly against Obama's healthcare reforms.

Here was a black doctor telling president Obama to his face that he was wrong. Instead of a big government "Obamacare" approach, Carson favoured individual responsibility, a "health savings account" that every citizen would be given at birth to contribute to over their lifetime and decide for themselves how to spend it.

He also talked about the incentive of wanting to save money and pass it on as a way to limit costly expenses toward the end of their life.

Carson also called for a simplified tax code, and for all Americans to pay the same rate, whether they have 10 billion dollars or 10 dollars.

It was music to the ears of small-government, anti-tax Tea Party members. Fox News ran highlights and interviewed Carson, dissected the speech, put Carson on again to debate another prominent Africa-American, the former democratic presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson.

At last, the anti-Obama nobody could accuse of being a racist. He was a poor, "angry" black kid from the tough streets of 1950's Detroit who turned to God, pulled himself up by his own bootstraps to become a famous doctor and a role model to his people. Carson was a real-life Dr Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show (without the real-life rape allegations) rather than the young black men many Americans fear, and some police officers shoot.

According to a new survey from Public Policy Polling, Carson is now second only to Scott Walker and ahead of Jeb Bush as the top pick for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

It might be a mistake to write off Carson as another flash-in-the-pan Tea Party favourite who will burn brightly and fade away. It would also be too simplistic to suggest, like Herman Cain and Alan Keyes before him, he's just the token black face in the Republican field to fend off claims of them being the "old white guy party".

Carson, like Obama in 2008, has a compelling personal story to tell. But unlike Obama, Carson's version of the American dream is lived without a major role for government.

There is an undertone here that some find disturbing: Carson is an "Uncle Tom", they say, a privileged "house negro" who has turned his back on the suffering of his fellow slaves. But of course there is another narrative Republicans prefer. After all it was the government who allowed slavery; it was the people who fought for their freedom. A lack of individual responsibility, and dependence on government handouts is what creates angry black kids; get out of their way and they can become the next Dr Carson.

So, could the "Party of Lincoln" be about to nominate a second African-American for the White House? Right now Carson hasn't even declared he's running for president, but his poll numbers and his speech schedule suggests he will.

Importantly though Carson has never been a politician, and while non-politicians can appeal to voters, particularly in primaries or imaginary contests tracked by pollsters, they also tend to lack a politician's skill of staying out of trouble, and avoiding gaffes.

However, if Carson's prominent role in Republican politics resonates with even a fairly small section of the African-American community as well as Tea Party conservatives, it could just tip the balance the GOP's way in 2016.

This article was originally published at ABC The Drum