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Behind Trump's Iowa Crowds, a Vigorous Outreach Effort

Trump fans in the Hawkeye State say they've gotten to know his ground organizers.
Image: Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Iowa
FORT DODGE, IA - NOVEMBER 12: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to guests during a campaign stop at Iowa Central Community College on November 12, 2015 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. The stop comes on the heals of Tuesday's eight-candidate Republican debate in Milwaukee where a national poll of viewers declared Trump the winner. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)Scott Olson / Getty Images

FORT DODGE, Iowa -- Every one to two weeks, Donald Trump descends into an Iowa town for one of his signature campaign rallies. But behind the big crowds of supporters is a campaign machine of staffers and volunteers that has built a formidable network of support on the ground in the hopes of turning enthusiasm into an Iowa caucus victory for the real estate mogul.

The reach of the team’s work is evident at its campaign rallies in the Hawkeye State.

Before Trump’s now-notorious 95-minute monologue in Fort Dodge, Iowa, last week, Wendell Steven, 77, sporting his white Trump shirt and red “Make America Great Again” hat sat about halfway back in the local community college auditorium where Trump would speak.

Asked what led him to come to the event, Steven said he got to personally know one of Trump’s ground organizers, Chris Hupke, who oversees primarily the northwest region of the state for the campaign.

“He’s probably around five times [more than] anyone from the other campaigns,” Steven said. “He calls up just to see how the weather is and where I’m at. He’s a good guy.”

His wife, Donna, interjected, "Wendell had open heart surgery, he got a get-well card from Chris and a personal visit at the house!"

Another Trump fan in a nearby seat at the Fort Dodge rally also said he'd been recruited by Hupke. Roger Huetig, 67, an Army veteran, met Hupke at a Webster County Republican fundraiser and found solidarity with the candidate’s immigration message.

"Deport them! Fill those busses up!" Huetig exclaimed.

Hupke told NBC News that his focus is teaching would-be backers about the caucus process.

“It’s all about the caucus and getting people educated and to understand what it means to caucus. And then following up with the people that have been supportive to get them out there," he said.

While Trump has campaigned in the major metropolitan areas of the state, the campaign has also targeted Fort Dodge-like events in smaller towns, including Newton (13,000 population), Oskaloosa (10,000) and Winterset (5,000).

“The fact that he’s making the effort to come to Fort Dodge -- it makes you feel like you count. We now count a little bit more,” said Tracy Stevens, 52, who filled out a “commit to caucus card” for Trump.

“He actually put an effort to see a small town in Iowa,” said Zach Sukovaty, 20. “Yeah, he may go to the big cities where there’s a lot more people, but if he jumps around to small towns, they’re going to consider him more because he’s for small-town people.”

In Fort Dodge alone, the campaign enlisted 40 volunteers to show up hours early and partake in various tasks around the event.

“I drove two-and-a-half hours just for this,” said Dave Vanderwel, 71, alongside his wife, Phyllis. The couple from Orange City, Iowa, wanted to volunteer for the campaign. That night, they passed out Trump signs to the crowd.

“Hey, I’ll drive anywhere. This is worth it, man. We need people like [Trump] who will get our country back on track," Vanderwel said.

At the front entrance, just beyond the newly-implemented Secret Service metal detectors, Walter Jensen and his son, Barry took down the names of people walking in. The elder Jensen has only caucused once before.

Jensen owns a trailer store in Humboldt – a community a half hour north of Fort Dodge – and recalled Hupke coming into his shop about a month ago “on a cold call just to see if we knew anyone around that might be Trump supporters.” Jensen told Hupke, on the spot, he would “absolutely” help out the campaign as a volunteer.

A few yards from Jensen at the Fort Dodge rally stood Tana Goertz, Trump's high-energy Iowa co-chair and a mini-celebrity herself after appearing as a finalist on The Apprentice in 2005.

Goertz huddled with potential supporters, rattling off her elevator pitch for the campaign. "You make sure you go out and caucus for Mr. Trump,” she told a father, who agreed to be a caucus-site leader for the campaign. (The campaign hopes to have its designated caucus leader for every neighborhood voting location by next week.)

Back inside the auditorium, Harvey Friesleben sat in the second row. The 73-year-old from Goldfield has never caucused. “I’ve never got this excited about it. This is my first. Never caucused but I’m here,” Friesleben said.

One section over, Dean Peterson, 48, a roadworker from Otho, arrived early with his son, Jake, 14. “He brought me here,” Peterson said. And now, Peterson said he will follow through and caucus for Trump because “he’s honest and tells it the way it is. He doesn’t put up with none of their crap.”

Amid that conversation, Kim Hefty, 57, a farmer who drove 45 minutes from Bradgate for the event, sat in the seat directly in front of the Petersons. She is a lifelong Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“It gets to the point where it’s about the person, not the party anymore,” Hefty said. “I think Donald talks the talk and walks the walk. And I don’t care for Hillary [Clinton]. I just don’t trust her.”

Ten minutes before the event was to begin, Hupke crossed by the entrance, where about 100 still waited in line to pass through security. “Let’s rock and roll,” Hupke said.

Two hours later, Trump left the building after giving – even for him – one of his more memorable speeches.

As attendees exited, the campaign staffers stayed until all were properly bid farewell. Stephanie Laudner, who is part of the staff and married to the state director Chuck Laudner, praised the crowd of about 50 who stood for nearly two hours on the risers behind Trump. And Sam Clovis, the campaign’s senior policy adviser, shook the hands of each person leaving the stage.

As Chuck Laudner told NBC News in October: "As long as Trump stays viable, we have a network. We've got this foundation laid out there that we can grow from.”