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Lessons from Iowa: Filling Stadiums is Fine, But Don’t Forget Your Ground Game

Both Bernie Sanders (D) and Donald Trump (R) have had rock star appeal in the realm of politics this cycle, filling stadiums and venues with people eager to hear their message.

But while these people might want to be entertained by a fresh political message, getting them to the polls is the key. For that, you need the traditional ground game.

Both Trump and Sanders held massive rallies in Iowa over the past few months, with the media eager to show ‘panned-out’ camera shots of the huge audiences — all predicting if voter turnout was boosted, these political outsiders would win by a landslide.

But in Iowa, where roughly 150,000 votes were cast in the Republican primary — an all-time high — quite the opposite was true.

Trump nearly had a third place showing, edging out Marco Rubio by about 1,200 votes. It was Ted Cruz, surging in the final days, who claimed a towering victory in the 11-way Republican race.

How did Rubio and Cruz do this? With traditional ground-pounding, mailers, and obnoxious robo-calls.

Last night is reminiscent of a 1990s episode of the The Simpson’s where Bart Simpson, class clown, runs for class president against the traditional “geek,” Martin.

Bart dazzles everyone with his antics, pranks, and showing off — and everyone has such a great time they forget to vote. Bart is loved by the class, but Martin wins because only two votes are cast — both for him.

This is a rather drastic pop-culture example of the Trump campaign. and possibly Sanders’ campaign had it not been for the big college towns in Iowa. Rallies and antics don’t get people to the polls. Had it not been for the impressive Obama ground game in 2008 and 2012 that captivated the youth, Sanders may not have even captured the college vote in Iowa.

Cruz’s final push, while obnoxious and possibly even illegal, is traditionally the type of thing that drives voters to the polls. Putting real ‘data’ (true or false) into people’s hands to motivate them to the polls, then having the organizational prowess and support to help voters to the poll in any way possible.

Rubio did the same, with very calculated campaigning targeting the traditional Republican strongholds and population centers. While his campaign was not “strong” statewide, he won where it mattered–and won big.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter for Cruz, Trump, or Rubio; they walk away from the race with almost identical delegates in the proportionally allocated caucus — and most importantly isolated and marginalized the bottom of the pack.

But coming up are winner-take-all primaries, where second place is only ‘first loser.’ The Republicans don’t want another drawn out campaign like 2012, and have changed the rules this time to make for a more decisive early victory.

For any of these three front runners, it’s going to be about the ground game from here on out, how to get your voters to the polls and get them there in numbers that will edge out the competition.

Otherwise, it’s just entertainment.