Need To Turn Buzz Into Votes? Trump And Carson Bank On Ground Games | KERA News

Need To Turn Buzz Into Votes? Trump And Carson Bank On Ground Games

Nov 3, 2015
Originally published on November 9, 2015 6:20 pm

Ben Carson and Donald Trump have very different personalities — one is as low-key as the other is over-the-top bombastic. They currently lead the rest of the field in the GOP presidential race and, unlike many political newcomers, each is building an organized ground game in Iowa to make sure his supporters actually turn out for the Feb. 1 caucuses.

At a recent Trump rally at a Sioux City high school, loudspeakers blasted an unofficial head-banging campaign anthem by Twisted Sister, to pump up the crowd for the candidate who wouldn't speak for another hour.

As people arrived, volunteers worked the parking lot and sidewalks asking attendees if they would "like to help with the caucus" and "help talk to your friends and neighbors about coming out on Feb. 1 to caucus for Donald Trump?"

"Not sure yet," one voter replied.

At this point, most Iowans haven't made a final decision either — but having their names in a campaign database is critical to a candidate who hopes to win them over.

Inside the rally, still awaiting Trump, the focus turns to caucus night, and getting ready for February weather.

"Are you prepared? Do you have a backup plan if there's a blizzard?" asks Tana Goertz, an Iowa native who starred on Trump's hit TV show The Apprentice. She's now his Iowa campaign co-chairwoman.

"If there's high winds, how's your grandma gonna get to the caucus? You better say you're taking her, right? Raise your hand if you're bringing somebody to the caucus," she continued.

The question about Trump from the beginning was whether this was a real campaign. But here in Iowa, he hired top staffers who know how to run a caucus. He's doing the things serious candidates do.

"The Trump campaign does have a real organization and they have really savvy operatives," said John Stineman, a veteran Iowa GOP strategist. "And my understanding is that they have a pretty robust data operation as well."

Carson's Low-Key Appeal

Like the candidate himself, Ben Carson's operation is low-key and less dynamic than Trump's. But he has tremendous appeal among evangelicals. That's important here.

"We have money, we have resources and we have people who are putting those resources to very good use," said Carson's Iowa director, Ryan Rhodes. He's a founder of the Iowa Tea Party and says they are organized in every Iowa county.

And Carson has another important weapon — Facebook. He has 4.5 million followers, more than any other candidate. He uses it to target Iowa voters.

Rhodes says it's about finding new backers, and connecting with those already on board.

"At the end of the day, nothing's firm until the vote's cast," he said.

For a candidate to succeed in Iowa, he needs both buzz and organization. Carson and Trump are both working hard now to lock in voters — especially because the buzz can be fleeting.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's talk about the presidential campaign, which until recently was a bargain for Donald Trump. Campaign disclosures show him raising and spending millions of dollars, though less than a few other candidates. The real estate developer has received all the media coverage he could want for free. Now, however, the Iowa caucuses are three months away. And they are all about organizing. Any contender needs to identify supporters and gather them to show up in person on February 1. NPR's Don Gonyea found that Trump has been hiring an organization and so has his rival, Ben Carson.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This is a Donald Trump rally at a high school in Sioux City.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT")

TWISTED SISTER: (Singing) We're not gonna take it...

GONYEA: Loudspeakers blast an unofficial head-banging campaign anthem to pump up the crowd for a candidate who won't speak for another hour. Outside, people are still arriving, and another important part of the campaign is taking place, volunteers working the parking lot and sidewalks.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi, folks, are you from Iowa? Would you like to help with the caucus? Would you like to help talk to your friends and neighbors about coming out on February 1 to caucus for Donald Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Not sure yet, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: OK. Well, if you're not sure, take one of these.

GONYEA: At this point, most Iowans haven't made a final decision. But having their names in a campaign database is critical to a candidate hoping to win them over. Meanwhile, back inside, still awaiting Trump, the focus turns to caucus night and to be ready for February whether.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TANA GOERTZ: Are you prepared? Do you have a backup plan for if there's a blizzard?

GONYEA: That's Tana Goertz, an Iowa native who starred on Trump's hit TV show, "The Apprentice." Now she's his Iowa campaign co-chair.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GOERTZ: If there's high winds, how's your grandma going to get to the caucus? You'd better say you're taking her, right? Raise your hand if you're bringing somebody to the caucus.

GONYEA: The question about Trump from the beginning was if this is a real campaign. But here in Iowa, he hired top staffers who know how to run a caucus. He's doing the things serious candidates do, according to John Stineman, a veteran Iowa GOP strategist.

JOHN STINEMAN: The Trump campaign does have a real organization. And they have really savvy operatives. And my understanding is that they have a pretty robust data operation as well.

GONYEA: Which brings us to Ben Carson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEN CARSON: I want to thank all the people of Iowa who've been supporting me and helping the rest of the nation realize that we shouldn't let the professional class pick our presidents.

GONYEA: Like the candidate himself, Carson's operation is low-key and less dynamic than Trump's. But he has tremendous appeal among evangelicals. That's important here. His state director, Ryan Rhodes, a founder of the Iowa Tea Party, says they are organized in every Iowa county.

RYAN RHODES: We have money. We have resources. And we have people who are putting those resources to very good use.

GONYEA: And Carson has another important weapon, Facebook. He has 4.5 million followers, more than any other candidate, which he uses to target Iowa voters. Ryan Rhodes says it's about finding new backers and connecting with those already on board.

RHODES: At the end of the day, nothing's firm until the vote's cast.

GONYEA: For a candidate to succeed in Iowa, they need both buzz and organization. Carson and Trump are both working hard now to lock in voters, especially because the buzz can be fleeting. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.