Ben Carson officially dropped out of the presidential race Friday.
"Now that I'm leaving the campaign trail," he said in the middle of a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The audience shouted, "no! no!" and gave him a standing ovation.
Carson said this week that he saw no "path forward" for his presidential campaign and did not participate in Thursday night's Republican debate, but he had not formally dropped out. He said Friday that he realized he didn't have the support or votes to win the contest.
"I did the math," Carson said of his decision to drop out. "I looked at the delegate counts, I looked at the states, I looked at the requirements and I realized it simply wasn’t going to happen and if that’s the case, I didn’t want to interfere with the process."
Carson joked that there are a "lot of people who love me, they just won't vote for me," he said to laughs. "But it’s okay, it’s not a problem."
But the news was almost old by the time Carson spoke. Around the convention hall, conservative activists expressed affection for Carson, but wondered if he ever really should have run for president.
“I’m sorry to see it,” said Bonnie Heuring, 53, who’d traveled to CPAC from Springville, Ind. “I like Dr. Carson. He’s a very principled man. But I don’t think he realized the cesspool he was getting into.”
Heuring intended to support Donald Trump for president. Martin Mawyer, 62, had voted for Ted Cruz in his Lynchburg, Va., precinct. He admired Carson for being “outside of politics” but wondered why he had worked so hard to undermine Cruz.
“I don’t think he ever showed enough enthusiasm to bring voters into his campaign,” said Mawyer. “The Republican Party has had a bad experience with deadpan candidates. McCain and Romney were cardboard figures, We want somebody animated. Carson stayed in a lot longer than he should have.”
Barry Bennett, the avuncular Republican strategist who had served as Carson’s campaign manager before a Jan. 1 staff culling, said that the campaign had served a purpose. Carson, because of the list he built, would have the ability to be a major conservative voice going forward
“This isn't the end,” said Bennett, now an adviser to Trump’s campaign.
And it is not: Carson said he will be involved in efforts to get evangelical Christians to vote.
“I will still continue to be heavily involved in trying to save our nation. We have to save it," he said.
Carson said he has heard "troubling things," like people won't vote at all if they don't vote for him.
"If you won't vote, then you're voting for the other side. We can't afford that," Carson said.
Ben Terris and David Weigel contributed to this report.