(Reuters) - Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson slammed "slick politicians" in both parties as he launched his bid on Monday for the 2016 Republican nomination for president, casting himself as a problem-solver whose experience sets him apart from the field.
Carson, a favorite of conservative activists, said the upcoming elections should bring in leaders with "common sense" to enact policies like reversing President Barack Obama's 2010 health care overhaul and revamping the U.S. tax code.
"I've got to tell you something. I'm not politically correct, and I'm probably never going to be politically correct because I'm not a politician," Carson said in a speech in Detroit, his hometown.
Ben Carson through the years
Retired surgeon Carson slams 'slick politicians' in 2016 U.S. presidential bid launch
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 12: (JAPAN OUT) (VIDEO CAPTURE) In this image from video Dr. Ben Carson talks about his life and education August 12, 2001 in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Carson was profiled for a CNN program called 'America's Best: Science and Medicine,' for his preeminence in the field of neurosurgery. (Photo by CNN via Getty Images)
Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, Ben Carson, Ralph Abernathy and Levy Watkins at Johns Hopkins University during a celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr, Baltimore, Maryland, 1980. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
Darius Rucker, Candy Carson and Dr. Ben Carson M.D., president and co-founder of Carson Scholars Fund (Photo by Louis Myrie/WireImage)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 5: Dr. Ben Carson is interviewed during a live streaming Web-A-Thon with Wake Up America September 5, 2014 at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Carson is a retired neurosurgeon who would run in the 2016 Presidential campaign as a conservative for the Tea Party. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 5: Dr. Ben Carson speaks as the keynote speaker at the Wake Up America gala Event September 5, 2014 at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Carson is a retired neurosurgeon who would run in the 2016 Presidential campaign as a conservative for the Tea Party. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 5: Dr. Ben Carson (C) chats with guests after a live streaming Web-A-Thon with Wake Up America September 5, 2014 at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Carson is a retired neurosurgeon who would run in the 2016 Presidential campaign as a conservative for the Tea Party. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)
US conservative Ben Carson is surrounded by supporters as he waits to be interviewed at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington,DC on February 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 26: Ben Carson, former neurosurgeon, addresses the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 26, 2015 in National Harbor, Maryland. Carson is the author of 'One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save Americas Future' and 'America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great'. Conservative activists attended the annual political conference to discuss their agenda. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US conservative Ben Carson addresses the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, DC on February 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 08: Ben Carson attends the National Action Network (NAN) national convention at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel on April 8, 2015 in New York City. The network, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991 is hosting various politicians, organizers and religious leaders to talk about the nation's most pressing issues. The conservative Carson is widely rumored to be considering a GOP presidential run in 2016. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - MAY 4: Republican Dr. Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, speaks as he officially announces his candidacy for President of the United States at the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts May 4, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. Carson was scheduled to travel today to Iowa, but changed his plans when his mother became critically ill. He now will be traveling to Dallas instead to be with his mother Sonya. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
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"Politicians do what is politically expedient, and I want to do what's right," he said.
Carson, who is 63 and the only black person currently seeking the nomination in either the Republican or Democratic parties, is a political neophyte. In polls of the Republican Party's wide field of likely candidates, he currently gets about 4.8 percent of the vote, according to Reuters/Ipsos polls.
That is well behind the leader, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has not formally declared his candidacy but is widely expected to do so in coming months.
Carson came from a poor family, raised by a single mother. He rose to be director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore at age 33 and successfully separated twins conjoined at the head. He became a conservative icon after the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, where he called the United States a nation in decay and criticized policies enacted by Obama, who sat nearby.
His words have sometimes gotten Carson in trouble. He once called Obama a "psychopath" and has made comments on gay marriage that infuriated the left.
On Monday, Carson played up his outsider status. He talked about his childhood in rough neighborhoods with rats and roaches and drug dealers who sometimes gave children candy.
He cited sacrifices his mother made to push his argument that safety-net programs cause government dependency instead of encouraging people to help themselves.
Carson also said his background as a surgeon and running a program that awards scholarships to students showed his ability to solve tough problems.
"I can name a lot of people in politics who have been there all their lives. You probably wouldn't want them to polish your shoe," he said. "We need to be smart enough to think for ourselves."