DES MOINES, Iowa — Billionaire Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination this year who’s duking it out with his closest challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), may have built a statewide army in Iowa that nobody in the national media has tracked.
While Cruz’s ground game is something to behold—every honest political observer is blown away by what the first-term Senator from Texas has been able to build here in the Hawkeye State—Trump’s grassroots team has gone largely unnoticed by everyone.
Both Cruz and Trump said in interviews on Sunday shows the day before the caucuses that they don’t view an Iowa win as essential to them getting the nomination. But most clued-in political observers in Iowa, including many from rival campaigns, while loathe to make public predictions have told Breitbart News over the past few days they believe this is a two-man race between Trump and Cruz. With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lowering expectations significantly, and his campaign saying he’s only trying for third place now, it’s down to Cruz and Trump.
Ground game is everything, too, and many insiders in Iowa say Trump may pull it off. Everyone will have their answer on Monday night. And the answer may come down to whether Trump has the ground-game to carry him over the top.
“Cruz does have the bodies on the ground and he’s had them here in the state for the final month, month and a half,” Craig Robinson of the Iowa Republican blog, who’s also the former executive director of the state GOP, said on Breitbart News Saturday on SiriusXM Patriot this weekend.
They can churn through and do that. The difference between these two campaigns is is numbers versus local. So the Trump campaign, I think, has done a better job of finding local people in these areas—so they’re activating other people’s networks to turn them out and using that Iowan to Iowan type of effort versus Cruz who I think has a tremendous amount of passionate supporters who have all dropped what they’re doing, come to Iowa, and helped this guy out. So I think at the end of the day, I think they’re going to balance out. I think the Iowan-to-Iowan stuff is a little bit more valuable.
Robinson said that the average person who’s organizing for Trump statewide is over 40 years old and has spent decades living in the communities they are organizing.
“The Trump field staffer, the person who’s organizing certain areas to get out the vote, the average age is over 40 years of age,” Robinson said.
So they have an older campaign—that means they’ve lived in these communities their entire lives, who are organizing. I don’t know if it was done on purpose or just was happenstance. But I think it allows these people, they’ve been around a long time, so you’re not relying on some kid to come in or someone from out of state to organize an area for you. You’ve got someone who is engrained in that community doing that stuff.
Cruz’s abnormally impressive ground game—most presidential election years don’t see any candidate here building the structural operation that Cruz has organized—includes more than 5,000 volunteers, according to his national political director Mark Campbell.
“There’s 1,500 precincts in Iowa and we’ve already recruited over 1,000 precinct chairs, an over 240-person leadership team, and 2,300 coalition members,” Campbell previously told Breitbart News. “We just cracked 100 state leaders and pastors. We’re past 5,000 volunteers. The other thing that we’ve done, is we got 700 volunteers to come in from around the country. Between them and our Iowa volunteer team, we’re able to make thousands of calls.”
Because of that amazing organizational structure, Cruz—as most in media have expected for some time until very recently with a Trump revival in Iowa—could easily just with pure brute-force barrel into a caucus-night win by bringing an overwhelming team of caucus-goers out on Monday night.
“The Trump people have always believed they were five points down to Cruz but that they would perform well because you’re not going to be able to find those untraditional caucus goers in these polls,” Robinson said in the interview, which happened before the Des Moines Register poll showed Trump five points above Cruz. “So I think if Trump has a five-point lead [in the Des Moines Register poll], things look really good for him.”
Cruz’s team is expecting turnout to be around 135,000 voters—an increase from last go-around in 2012. The weather forecast on Monday evening hints that there may be snow in Iowa, which could drive turnout for the caucuses down—providing an advantage to Cruz. Essentially, the thinking goes, the lower the turnout overall, the better for Cruz—who has the more calculated ground game effort.
“The Cruz campaign has done extensive modeling on the caucuses and believes the turnout will ultimately fall between 133,000 and 137,000,” National Review’s Tim Alberta wrote.
Republicans familiar with Cruz’s analytics program say his team has modeled caucus electorates all the way up to 175,000 out of an abundance of caution, and feels confident that its man will prevail even if turnout reaches that high. The reason: Cruz will hold a lead of roughly 7,000 votes over Trump with a GOP electorate of 125,000, his allies say. Trump would need to win a huge plurality — if not a majority — of additional votes in order to offset Cruz’s lead.
But Robinson, in his interview with Breitbart News’ Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon on Breitbart News Saturday this weekend, predicted the turnout number will be much higher for sure—at least 150,000, he says—and perhaps even higher than that.
“Our open U.S. Senate primary in 2014 had 154,000 people turn out at it,” Robinson said. “So, we’d be seeing that as Republicans this is going to perform like primary. To me, the 150,000 [estimated turnout] is the safe number. I think it could be much higher than that.”
When asked if higher turnout benefits Trump, Robinson said “oh yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.”
“This all dependent on Trump’s ability to turn out new people,” Robinson added.
There’s no metric you can really apply though to figure that out. The Trump campaign is not telling people to go change your registration. This is where Chuck Laudner is really savvy. What they’re telling their people, they’re giving them voter registration forms, telling them to fill it out, register as Republican and take it to your caucus night because the little trick is the state party had to print its list long ago. So you run the risk of really frustrating the voter if they change their voter registration to participate and then they show up but they say ‘Hey, you’re not on the list.’ So this is where Laudner, being a former executive director of the Republican Party who knows the ins and outs of all this stuff, just says ‘Hey, we’re just going to arm our people with voter registration forms. We’re not going to rely on the Republican Party to have enough forms. We’ll just take them there that night and register them because then there’s no little problems that could upset our supporters.’
Laudner, Trump’s top Iowa official who in 2012 led former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to a surprise victory in the caucuses, has largely kept the Trump campaign’s ground game efforts in Iowa a secret. But a little over a week ago in Winterset, Iowa, at the John Wayne birthplace when the Wayne family endorsed Trump for president in the iconic film actor’s birthplace museum, Trump was asked by a reporter during the subsequent press conference about his ground game and brought Laudner on stage with him.
“Well I think I feel very good about my ground game,” Trump said. “We have a great group of people. Chuck—where’s Chuck? Come here Chuck. Get over here Chuck. We’re going to put all the pressure on Chuck. The question is how do we feel about our ground game? Chuck can answer that question, because if he doesn’t do good: Chuck you’re fired!”
Laudner, joining Trump at the podium, added more by noting that he feels “fantastic” about ground game efforts.
“We feel fantastic about the ground game and I know we go silent on those things but there’s nothing about this campaign that’s like all the rest or any of those in the past,” Laudner said. “We do things different and we reach out to people who normally wouldn’t be caught dead in caucus events. So we feel really good about our chances, we feel really good about our reach and we think you’re going to have a surprise on caucus night.”
Laudner added that there is a conscientious decision by the Trump organization to not broadcast its ground game efforts. Very much like businessman hiding trade secrets from his competitors, Trump is purposely not telling the press—like politicians regularly do when they build a successful organization and routinely run to the press to brag about it—about his ground game machine.
“We don’t advertise our caucus trainings and we generally don’t let you folks [the media] in because we’re working and it’s not about you, it’s about ground game,” Laudner said then. “We’ve had just in the last week 13 caucus trainings.”
Trump added then that he thinks his team has a “great shot” at winning Iowa, but he didn’t then—and still hasn’t—predicted an outright victory.
“I think we have great ground game,” Trump said there. “I think we’re going to have a great shot at winning Iowa. I hope we win Iowa.”
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