Enter Carter, who was as unconventional of a Democratic candidate as it got back then. He was as much as an outsider within the Democratic party then as Carson is now. He won his lone campaign for governor of Georgia in 1970 by courting conservatives in a racially-charged campaign that attacked his Democratic opponent as an urban liberal. Carter’s presidential campaign showed surprising grassroots strength by focusing his efforts on the then-insignificant Iowa caucuses, finishing ahead of all the other candidates in the race.
He was a quirky presidential candidate: During the race, Carter pledged to release every piece of government information about UFOs available to scientists—after filing a UFO report himself as governor. He sat down for an interview with Playboy, acknowledging that he “committed adultery in [his] heart many times.” That didn’t stop him from winning the presidency at a time when the public was embracing outsiders, scrambling the electoral map in surprising ways for a party that nominated George McGovern four years earlier. (That year, Carter nearly swept the South and carried Mississippi, Alabama and Texas—the last Democratic presidential nominee to win those deeply conservative states.)
Carson, likewise, is about as unconventional as a Republican presidential candidate as you could come up with. He’s African-American, and grew up in poverty in inner-city Detroit. He was such a successful neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University that Cuba Gooding Jr. starred in a movie about his career. His only experience with politics was when he attacked the president’s health care law to his face at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. He’s one of the best-financed Republican candidates in a crowded field—with over $30 million raised at the end of September—thanks to a widespread grassroots fundraising network.
Carson’s recent string of inflammatory comments about gun control and Islam, combined with ignorance about the debt ceiling, is doing little to dent his strong approval ratings—including among moderates, independents, and even some Democrats.