- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa — With a close race here between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz hinging on turnout for the Republican presidential caucuses in just 18 days, Trump supporters are taking matters into their own hands with a grass-roots GOTV effort.

But Mr. Trump’s supporters, many of them new to the process and excited by the billionaire businessman’s unconventional run, said they don’t have to be prodded to attend the caucuses.

Roger Hollingsworth, 22, said he has independently arranged to carpool three van-loads of his Trump-enthusiast friends to a caucus site.

“I feel if I take care of Trump now, he will take care of us when he negotiates with Iran, North Korea and China or any country we make trade deals with,” said Mr. Hollingsworth, who majors in technology management at the University of Northern Iowa.

“I don’t need an extra push,” Shane Bohlmann, 47, a real estate investor in Cedar Rapids said of his motivation to caucus.

This will be Mr. Bohlmann’s first time at the caucuses, which require participants to go out on a cold winter night to a caucus site at high school auditorium, public library or community center where they will spend hours representing their candidate.

He vowed to caucus this year for Mr. Trump.

“He’s a businessman. He says it like it is,” he said. “I agree with him on everything: the wall, immigrants, the war, terrorists.”

However, Mr. Bohlmann, Mr. Hollingsworth and other die-hard Trump supporters across Iowa interviewed this week said they’ve never been contacted by the campaign about how to caucus and where to caucus. That signals a weak Trump organization on the ground in the Hawkeye State.

The Republican race in Iowa has tightened between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, who both enjoy huge followings among evangelical and conservative voters.

Mr. Cruz edged out Mr. Trump, 25 percent to 22 percent, in a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released Wednesday. Mr. Cruz’s lead was within the survey’s margin of error and his lead had shrunk from the same poll in December, when he had a 10-point advantage over Mr. Trump.

The next closest competitors in the new poll were Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 12 percent and 11 precedent, respectively. No other candidate broke out of single digits.

Mr. Trump, who holds double-digit leads nationally and in other early voting states, acknowledged that he’s worried about Mr. Cruz’s standing in the Iowa polls.

“A little too close for comfort,” he told a capacity crowd Tuesday in the gym at University of Northern Iowa. “I want to win in Iowa. I don’t want to come in second.”

A visit Wednesday to the Tump campaign office in West Des Moines found a handful of volunteers and staff. Asked about the ground game, a volunteer grumbled: “What there is of one.”

Trump campaign officials declined to provide information about its GOTV effort. Mr. Trump has taken steps to set up a robust operation, including hiring veteran Iowa GOP operative Chuk Laudner as his state director.

In nearby Urbandale, the Cruz campaign headquarters was buzzing with activity typically associated with GOTV. More than a dozen volunteers were working a phone bank and staff were coordinating mailings and canvasing operations.

“We’re very confident we’ve got the right team in place and the right strategy to win,” said Bryan English, the state director for the Cruz campaign.

Meanwhile, some of Mr. Trump’s staunchest supporters are still waiting for the phone to ring.

“I offered to give the Trump speech here in Madison County at our caucuses, because you are supposed to stand up and talk for a few minutes about your candidate. And I haven’t heard from anybody,” said Ken Crow, a prominent tea party activist and outspoken Trump supporter.

“I don’t know what’s going on but I do know these people are doing it as a grass-roots effort,” he said. “I would have thought somebody would have called me.”

He wasn’t worried about turnout, though. He said that the people who stand in line in the freezing cold to attend a Trump rally were dedicated to the cause.

“It’s fricking cold,” he said. “Trust me. These people are going to caucus. They are going to be there. They’re not doing this for their good health.”

Will Rogers, chairman of the Polk County Iowa GOP, also was confident Mr. Trump’s followers would turnout en masse. He said that the sheer number of people at Trump rallies, which dwarf the crowds for other candidates, suggested a strong showing for Mr. Trump on caucus night.

Donald Trump on caucus night is going to be successful because he has built a message that resonates not just will your likely caucuses goes, but also people who have not stepped into a caucus,” said Mr. Rogers, who is uncommitted in the race. “But they are ready to step out on caucus night because they have heard something from Donald Trump that they have not heard before.”

Seth McLaughlin in Washington contributed to this article.

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