Inside Ben Carson's inner circle

The team behind Ben Carson
The team behind Ben Carson

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Story highlights

  • Armstrong Williams's official title is "business manager," and has no fixed campaign role, but the South Carolina native is a staple of cable TV and the most high-profile Carson surrogate
  • Candy Carson met her future husband when they were undergraduates at Yale University. Married 40 years, Carson told CNN that she, "gave him up to medicine"
  • Thomas Rustici -- an economic policy adviser -- is a professor at George Mason University in Virginia and familiar to listeners of the "G. Gordon Liddy Show"

(CNN)Ben Carson might just be the most unorthodox presidential candidate in the 2016 field. A retired pediatric neurosurgeon, he has never run for office and counts the Medal of Freedom among his many awards. He is now one of the GOP front-runners, having dethroned Donald Trump in some national polls and solidly ahead in Iowa.

His standing reflects the deep ties Carson has built among evangelicals who see his personal story as an example of God's grace as well as a critique of liberalism. While he is a political neophyte, he is backed by a team of political veterans who have turned him into a presidential contender, flush with cash, and an ardent group of supporters.
Here is the Carson inner circle:
    Armstrong Williams is Carson's most important adviser and has been central to his rise as a brand and conservative political figure. Their partnership dates back more than a decade, forged over early morning phone calls about politics and the health of Williams' mother. "Whatever headlines of the day, he would delve into, he was hungry for it," Williams recalled of the phone calls in a CNN interview. "He was very interested in why there was a gridlock. Why both sides could not get together for what was best for America. He was always interested in the health care, the jobs, why inner city ... jobs continually leave and leave wastelands for young people and what's going to happen."
    Though his official title is "business manager," and has no fixed campaign role, the South Carolina native is a staple of cable TV and the most high-profile Carson surrogate. When Carson makes a comment that some might consider controversial, Williams is the steadfast explainer. "He's trying to mix a scientific world with a political world and a medical world and a spiritual world and sometimes the end result can be kind of flabbergasting because it's shocking to people," Williams said. "But eventually it will work out and come to the right conclusion because he's always searching."
    Candy Carson met her future husband when they were undergraduates at Yale University. Married 40 years, Carson told CNN that she, "gave him up to medicine." A music, psychology and pre-med major, Carson is a classically trained violinist and also has an MBA from Johns Hopkins. She is the co-writer of many of his books, including his latest one, "A More Perfect Union." When he announced his bid for the White House in their hometown of Detroit, Carson played the "Star-Spangled Banner" on the violin.
    Like many political spouses, Carson initially didn't want her husband to run for the White House, but thinking about her grandchildren and the debt led her to change her mind. The campaign sees her as integral to his ground game strategy, particularly in states like Iowa. "I'm not as politically inclined as he is, because you know, I was raising children and so on and so forth, and it just wasn't my forte," she said in an interview with Erin Burnett. "He is very interested, and now I've come on board."
    Robert F. Dees, a retired U.S. Army major general, advises Carson on foreign policy and national security. Dees is on the faculty at Liberty University and has commanded forces in Korea, Europe and dealt with the U.S.-Israeli Combined Task Force for Missile Defense. Widely known in evangelical circles, Dees first met Carson in February at church, which led to a four-hour dinner and study sessions.
    "We started with a world map and looked at the way the United States goes from the State Department to Defense Department and the way other nations and international bodies organize around the world," Dees said in a CNN interview with Suzanne Malveaux. "In a short time I came to recognize Dr. Carson had the right reflexes, and after 30-plus years in the military, I can size up a leader."
    Barry Bennett, a long-time DC insider, serves as Carson's campaign manager. His political career dates back to 1984, when he held a low-level staff job on President Ronald Reagan's re-election campaign. Since then, he has advised Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and worked for the Republican National Committee. In 2012, he backed Rick Perry and produced the documentary, "When Mitt Romney Came to Town," a video that portrayed Romney as a job killer.
    Bennett has pushed hard to change the primary debate format and has said that Carson is set to talk more about his policy prescriptions. "We're going to talk about the problems America is facing and our solutions for them," he told Erin Burnett. "And again, how to make the party bigger, better and bolder."
    Deana Bass is Carson's press secretary and connected with him through Williams. "I've always known of him, grew up knowing about him and had a chance to one day out of the blue, I got a phone call while I was sitting in my pajamas at my kitchen table, that Dr. Carson needed a press secretary," she said in an interview with Malveaux. "So, I went and met with him and here I am." Her mom thought it was a no-brainer to take the job, and since joining team Carson, Bass has been on the campaign trail—the most rigorous schedule she has ever kept, she said.
    The most common question she gets from reporters? "Of course the reporters are always asking can we get prepared remarks and I think you all know by now he does not work from prepared remarks," she said. "No notes."
    Thomas Rustici advises Carson on economic policy. New to election politics, Rustici is a professor at George Mason University in Virginia and familiar to listeners of the "G. Gordon Liddy Show." He has argued that minimum wage laws create unemployment and make low-wage workers poorer. His main task is helping Carson explain his 10 to 15% flat tax system, which is based on the Biblical idea of tithing.