LYNCHBURG, Va. — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson followed his debate performance in Milwaukee with a trip to Christian Liberty University on Wednesday, saying he clings onto his religion to get through the adversity of a presidential election.
"My advice would be Proverbs 3:5" Carson, who is a Seventh-Day Adventist, said in response to a question he received about advice to college students. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight," he recited.
"I cling to it now, when so many in the media, you know, want to bring me down because I represent something that they can't stand," Carson told nearly 12,000 people who filled the university's basketball arena.
Carson, who earns strong support from white evangelical voters in polling, received a raucous reception at the school that has hosted Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders.
"I don't think I saw a single person not stand here," 2nd year graduate student Russ Allen said after the speech.
After singing along while on stage with a campus band, Carson was introduced by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell. From the first mention of his name, the audience roared with cheers and applause, with a few holding signs "Run Ben Run."
"We talk about Liberty all the time," Carson said after introducing his wife Candy, "because that's what it represents, liberty, freedom."
Carson gave a fairly standard stump speech, beginning with his personal story where he explained how he was a horrible student, but turned to God for wisdom. Carson referenced his Christian faith multiple times throughout his remarks.
He promised to push for religious liberty to level the playing field as president.
"Specifically," Carson said, "we need legislation to protect the religious freedoms of people who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman."
Defending his tax plan that he compares to tithing because it establishes a "proportional plan" that gives everyone the same rate, Carson said, "I believe that God is the fairest individual that there is. If he thought it was fair I think is must be pretty fair."
At Liberty University, many student cited Carson's overt faith as a reason behind the intense scrutiny he's now receiving as a frontrunner.
"I think that anyone who stands up firmly for what they believe in, is going to get vetted for it," senior Josh Roper said. "The more you stand up on a spiritual basis, the more you get knocked down."
"I think a lot of us connected with him since before he ran for president," first year medical student Abra Robbins said after the former neurosurgeon spoke, calling Carson an inspiration.
"People are trying to break him down because he's risen in popularity more than they ever expected him," she said referring to recent questions about the veracity of personal stories he's told in the past. "They are afraid of seeing what they thought would never happen."
Making that point to the popular crowd, Carson highlighted the support his campaign has been receiving.
"Interestingly enough, we now have over 900,000 donations from average Americans. They never anticipated, that we the people could fund a campaign, " Carson said.
"They always thought it had to be the billionaires and the special interest groups," he added.
Armed with a fresh wave of support from the supportive audience, Carson gave no signs of backing down. "The real question is: Are we willing to stand up for those values and principles or will we allow ourselves to be intimidated by the secular progressives?" Carson said.