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To outsiders, they looked like simple stacks of paper. But for Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign, they represented a missed opportunity.
A month before Iowa’s 2016 presidential caucuses, mountains of so-called pledge cards sat in the corner of Trump’s suburban Des Moines state headquarters. They contained the names and contact information of roughly 10,000 Iowans who attended Trump campaign events and responded by returning the cards suggesting they were open to backing the reality television star who was now seeking the White House.
In what’s considered political malpractice by Iowa standards, those who returned the cards received no follow-up contact from the campaign.
“None of that data was used. None of it was entered,” said Alex Latcham, the former political director for the Iowa Republican Party and now Trump’s early-voting state director. “And those people weren’t encouraged or mobilized to caucus.”
Chuck Laudner, who was Trump’s Iowa state director in 2016, didn’t respond to requests for comment. But by ignoring the cards, Trump’s team essentially left a pile of uncashed checks out in the open, leaving him vulnerable to better-organized GOP rivals. He was beaten in Iowa by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who would go on to fight Trump state by state for three months.
As Trump returns to Iowa on Monday, he and his team are aiming for a more disciplined approach. They are particularly focused on building the data and digital engagement he will need to persuade Iowans to traipse through the cold and snow early next year to participate in the caucuses.
Though his swing through the eastern city of Davenport marks his first trip to Iowa since launching his third bid for the presidency, he’s held roughly three dozen events in the state since entering political life. They include several rallies that have attracted thousands since he left office in 2021.
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