At CPAC, a Ben Carson lovefest

They love Ben.

While many of the speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference spoke to a half-empty ballroom in suburban Washington the last several days, conservatives packed in to hear Ben Carson, the renowned heart surgeon who has emerged over the last year as a sharp critic of President Obama.

And he didn’t disappoint, delivering a series of blunt, pithy lines that had the crowd repeatedly standing up to cheer him, with some waving “Carson 2016” signs.

“I’ve got plenty of money, that’s not the problem,” he said to loud applause, rejecting the notion he has emerged as a political figure to help increase his book sales.

“You want to tell me we are not an exceptional nation, you need to jump in the lake,” he said, describing his foreign policy vision.

“The ones that keep voting to raise the debt ceiling, get them out of office,” Carson said, rebuking both Republicans and Democrats.

“I still believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” Carson declared, pausing after the line as the crowd cheered.

Carson’s reception was no surprise, as his controversial style has quickly won over conservatives.

Despite having never served in elective office and being unlikely to run in the future, Carson not only earned a coveted speaking slot at CPAC usually reserved for people who have or are considering presidential runs, but spoke in front of a packed house. The crowd that heard Carson ,with conservatives coming into the room to hear him and then filing out afterward when other speakers took the stage, rivaled that of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a favorite of conservative activists and likely 2016 candidate.