Trump Fans Flock to Rallies, But Many Still Haven't Decided Their Caucus Vote

The big crowds in Iowa have a month to decide whether their support will translate to the voting booth.

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- A line of several thousand voters wrapped around the Mid-American Convention Center for nearly a mile on Tuesday evening, hours in advance of Donald Trump’s campaign event there.

As the sun went down and the wind began to howl, the line appeared to be growing. The fresh snow on the ground and below-freezing temperatures didn’t seem to keep supporters away, many of them clad in campaign T-shirts and “Make America Great Again” hats like groupies attending a rock concert.

With Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses nearly a month away, the biggest unanswered question about Donald Trump’s campaign is whether the boisterous crowds will translate into votes in the primaries and caucuses.

The crowd, a mix of Iowans and neighboring Nebraskans, seemed excited to rally, but unsure if they would show up to vote for Trump.

“Most of my friends are talking about Bernie Sanders and some of my other friends are talking about Trump,” said Jason Mahoney, 19, of Council Bluffs.

Mahoney, who will be a first-time caucus-goer in February, says he’s torn between the two candidates. Although he is registered as an independent, he says he’ll register as a Republican or Democrat on caucus night in order to participate.

“I’m just hearing both sides of them and trying to pick between them,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney isn’t the only voter who remains undecided. The Huffington Post talked to about 40 Iowans outside of Trump’s rally in Council Bluffs on Tuesday, most of whom were still undecided or soft in their commitment.

“I’m making a point to see all the presidential candidates, and Donald Trump is about the only one I haven’t seen yet,” said Steve Meidlinger of Council Bluffs.

Meidlinger, who has participated in several caucuses in the past, says he’s deciding between Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Donald Trump.

“I haven’t made a decision yet, but in that month time, I will be reviewing all the candidates and picking the best one,” he said.

Steve Fyle of Treynor, Iowa, said he recently switched his allegiance from retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to Donald Trump.

“Originally I was happy with Carson, but then Trump came along and he was a little bit more authoritative. So, I kind of went to Trump,” Fyle said.

Fyle, who has caucused in the past, says it takes a higher level of commitment than the traditional election. He explained that caucusing requires a lot of time and effort, and an understanding that most participants will spend the majority of their evening at the local precinct standing in line, listening to speeches and eventually casting their vote.

“I’ll do what I can in terms of coming out and caucusing. With work, and life and bad weather, sometimes it can be too much,” Fyle explained.

Only a few supporters said they were absolutely certain that they would be caucusing for Donald Trump on Feb. 1, although many of them seemed unclear about the process required. One woman, who said she was born and raised in Iowa, was completely unaware of what the caucus process in general looked like.

The Trump campaign strategy in early voting states has been far from traditional, especially in Iowa. Instead of retail politicking in Pizza Ranches and gas stations, the Republican front-runner has relied on reaching voters at large rallies. This summer, 10 of his staffers traveled the state by bus, recruiting voters in crucial Republican-dominated counties.

Many of Trump’s rivals have questioned whether he is organized enough in Iowa, where voting involves a lot more than simply casting a ballot. But the campaign has said it's ramping up campaign efforts, with door-knocking and a computerized voter database. An email sent to supporters ahead of the campaign event in Council Bluffs said volunteers would be out in full force collecting contact information.

Several attendees in the crowd said they had not been contacted by the Trump campaign at this point in the cycle, or that they couldn't recall any direct interaction.

“I get emails and mailings from all the candidates probably,” said Mike Fara of Irwin, Iowa, who is still deciding whether he’ll caucus for Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. “It’s pretty saturated. We all are bombarded by so much, that it all blends together."

Todd Matheson of Council Bluffs said he’s been contacted by the campaign via Facebook. 

“They asked me to come out and volunteer,” Matheson said. “I still haven’t made my mind up, so why do they think I’ll come volunteer?"

Despite the lack of communication from the campaign, many Iowans standing in line mentioned that they had received a Christmas card from Donald Trump.

“We did get a Christmas card from Donald Trump, very nice, very classy,” said John Paulson from Council Bluffs, who is leaning toward supporting Trump but has yet to make up his mind. “Half the people I know that are registered Republicans got one."

The billionaire businessman is currently polling in second place in the Hawkeye State, falling behind Texas Senator Ted Cruz, according to a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll released at the beginning of the month. According to a Real Clear Politics average of polling data, Donald Trump is still leading nationally, with 36 percent of support of likely Republican voters compared to Ted Cruz’s 19 percent of support.