WAUKEE, Iowa —For his most conventional Iowa caucus campaign event to date, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump shook hands and tackled retail politics in a Pizza Ranch last week.
Following in the footsteps of recent Republican caucus winners, Trump made an impromptu stop at the Midwestern pizza buffet chain.
Though the real estate mogul did not try a slice of the Pizza Ranch’s pizza (or even a leg of its prided chicken) and stayed for less than 20 minutes, he did not leave empty handed.
Trump came away with the endorsement of the president and co-founder of Pizza Ranch, Adrie Groeneweg, who has never caucused before.
“He might be a little bit out there on how he talks to people, but I’m tired of regular politicians,” Groeneweg told the press shortly after Trump left the Waukee restaurant.
Ironic since Groeneweg’s business is known as a symbol for voters looking to vet politicians in Iowa.
It has become a bit of a joke in Iowa presidential politics that one wins the caucuses by going from Pizza Ranch to Pizza Ranch shaking hands with voter after voter as they consume slice after slice.
Former caucus winners Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum made this practice an art in 2008 and 2012 respectively, visiting dozens of Pizza Ranches across the state.
The chain is an ideal retail stop because they often have a small private room, perfect for intimate events, and the cost of renting it out is usually fairly cheap ($30 per room in the Waukee location). The chain also is a private Christian organization whose vision is “to glorify God by positively impacting the world.”
Trump’s Iowa state director Chuck Laudner, who led Santorum’s then unpredicted rise to caucus victory, was instrumental in planning this Pizza Ranch stop. The restaurant had to be closed for hours before Trump even arrived so that Secret Service could secure the location and properly search and clear those looking forward to see the candidate.
The Trump campaign billed this unscheduled stop as a caucus captain/volunteer meeting, and the fans in attendance said they received a private invitation to come after Trump’s first event of the day in Urbandale, Iowa. The GOP frontrunner entered, spoke briefly to the volunteers who were sporting Trump emblazoned shirts, shook hands, signed a few books and then left.
“We have to get out, we’ve got to win!” encouraged Trump before leaving.
By walking away from his first Pizza Ranch trip with the endorsement of the chain’s president, Trump perhaps raised the bar for future visits to the notorious campaign venue moving forward.
Sen. Lindsey Graham and Huckabee had held campaign events at the very same Pizza Ranch restaurant and room earlier in the campaign, with scarcely the amount of media attention or fanfare.
Harry Brown, a Trump fan from Waukee who plans to caucus for him on February 1, was thrilled to see Trump up close at the Pizza Ranch. When asked if he wished Trump would make more of these retail stops, he lit up with enthusiasm.
“The more stops the better!” Brown exclaimed. “But that’s not going to change my mind. I’m going to vote for him one way or another.”