Campaign organizing heats up as Iowa Caucus night forecast turns frigid

Former President Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis say they’re counting on hundreds of precinct level volunteers to spur turn-out in the Iowa Caucuses next Monday, despite frigid temperatures in the forecast.

Trump told a crowd in Newton this weekend that next Monday’s forecast of a deep chill was good news for his campaign. “My people will walk on glass. They don’t care,” Trump said, to cheers and applause.

DES MOINES — A few hours later in Ankeny, DeSantis joked about how cold it was going to be next Monday night. “You all are still going to turn out, though, right? It doesn’t matter — o.k.,” DeSantis said as the crowd cheered.

Dean Grossnickle of Gilbert was in the crowd applauding. He’s a precinct captain for DeSantis. The role isn’t just about Caucus Night. It’s about recruiting people now who’ll caucus for DeSantis next week. “Talking to my neighbors, talking to my ‘friend’ list, the people that I have influence with,” Grossnickle said.

Gary Leffler of West Des Moines who was a congressional candidate two years ago, is a 2024 Iowa Caucus Captain for Trump. He said it’s pretty straightforward stuff, like contacting potential Caucus-goers. “Call my list. Get my people there like I’m supposed to do in my precinct. Show up. Be positive. Be enthusiastic,” Leffler said.

Explaining what will happen inside a caucus is part of it, too. “The Iowa GOP has done a good job of refining it, making it fairly simple,” Leffler said “I think my biggest concern right now is January 15 is supposed to be 10 degrees.”

Leffler was wearing one of the white baseball caps the Trump campaign is giving its Caucus Captains. Chris McAninch of Grimes had one on, too, as he waited in line to see Trump in Newton. McAninch said part of the role is being the Trump campaign’s official observer of the hand count of ballots at his precinct. “Watch and regulate the caucus,” McAninch says, adding he doesn’t expect to see problems: “I expect to see a lot of Trump ballots.”

Joyce Schmidt, the pastor of St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Bode, is a precinct captain for DeSantis. It all started in June, when someone from a political action committee backing DeSantis knocked on her door. A few weeks after that Schmidt hosted a dozen people in her home in Bode for a private meeting with DeSantis. In mid-December, Schmidt gave the opening prayer at a DeSantis campaign event in Fort Dodge.

“I try to do as much as I can, but I have to be careful being a pastor. I can’t push a whole lot, but they know where I stand and I think the majority of the people in my church are Republicans and I think I’ve converted them from Trump to DeSantis,” she said, laughing. “I guess we’ll find out.”

DeSantis said candidates who haven’t organized down to the precinct level “always underperform” on Caucus night. “Caucus is a commitment. You’re talking about mid-January. It’s going to be cold. It’s on a school night. You’re going to be there for a couple of hours,” DeSantis said during an interview with Radio Iowa, “and so identifying those people who are committed to doing it, which we’ve done in the tens of thousands, organizing these areas so that we can bring more people out, that’s just how you win these things.”

Trump held four more of his “Commit to Caucus” events in Iowa this weekend. A video about how the Caucuses work is played as the crowd waits for Trump, then Trump singles out the Caucus Captains when he takes the stage. “This is a special group ’cause you’re going to be out there on the 15th,” Trump said during an event in Ankeny last month. “…This time we have the best team anyone’s ever assembled for Caucus.”

Trump, who finished second in the 2016 Iowa Caucuss, this weekend said “a massive victory” for him next Monday would send “a thunderous message” about the 2024 campaign.