No secret to Cruz success in Iowa

Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses the old-fashioned way: he earned it.

Employing a sophisticated, expansive ground game that overwhelmed the efforts of his competitors, the Cruz turnout machine was something to behold.

The candidate visited all 99 Iowa counties.  He had a captain in all 1,681 precincts.  And he used an extensive network of churches and pastors to identify his supporters and then get them to the caucuses last night.

In the last few days of the campaign, he had 12,000 volunteers knocking on 2,000 doors and making more than 20,000 calls every day.

He out-worked, out-hustled, out-thought, and eventually out-maneuvered all of the other candidates.  It was a spectacular example of retail politics at its finest.


"When he started this thing, he was nowhere," said GOP pollster Frank Luntz, standing on a chair as an overflow Cruz crowd surrounded him in Ames. "I would use this campaign to teach others how to run a race."

Monday morning, the Texan's campaign bus ambled to a basketball court in this Greene County town along the Raccoon River to pay heed to Iowa's most revered custom: the "Full Grassley," or the pledge to visit all 99 counties, named for Sen. Chuck Grassley.

"Whatever campaign techniques were used by the campaign that has won, maybe this was the year for that," said Jeff Kaufmann, the state's GOP chair. "But I don't think retail politics, building a political machine and doing all 99 counties is every going to be out of date in this state."

Trump spent a total of two nights in Iowa hotels, jetting in and out on a private plane for a rally every few days. Rubio blanketed the state in television ads, seeing campaign events as not as efficient a use of time as a Fox News hit or a super PAC media buy. Cruz aides stress that they layered a serious data and paid media campaign onto the infrastructure, but the bedrock of Cruz's bid here was a strategy that was more timeworn than innovative.

Visiting every corner of Iowa doesn't guarantee anything, however. Mick Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who won the 2008 and 2012 GOP caucuses, respectively, barnstormed the state and came away at the bottom of the pack. Huckabee dropped out before the night was over.

"It will say as much about the process as it does about the outcome," said Joseph McReynolds, a Cruz fundraiser and activist, as he observed his candidate work a tiny town two days before voting.

Up to the final hours in Iowa, Cruz's team maintained a sense of serenity, believing that the outcome's fate was largely out of their hands. Their voters would turn out. The big question that would decide the race was whether Trump's would -- and that was not in the Cruz campaign's control.

Can he duplicate the effort in New Hampshire?  The last two Iowa winners – Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee – failed to capitalize on their success in Iowa to take New Hampshire.  Conventional wisdom points to the Granite State being far more secular and more moderately conservative than other states. 

But Cruz has generated an enthusiasm on the right that neither Huckabee or Santorum was able to do.  His support extends far beyond the evangelical community to more libertarian-minded voters, as well as fiscal hawks.  There are plenty of both in New Hampshire, and the blitz of free media Cruz will get this week will help solidify his position as the major alternative to Donald Trump.

The turnout overall was tremendous in Iowa – a record 182,000 Iowans voted, with 40% attending their first caucus.  That smashed the previous record set in 2012 of 122,000 caucus-goers.  We'll see if that enthusiasm extends to the primaries, but given the closeness of the race, it won't be a surprise if it does.

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