When Donald Trump first launched his presidential campaign, he looked like a man who was on a mission to become King of the Media Circus. He was boisterous, bold, and didn’t hesitate to take his opponents and detractors to the cleaners on a daily basis. Surely, this was some sort of stunt or vanity campaign, right?

Then, of course, the poll numbers started hitting the airwaves, proving that what he was saying and doing was resonating with voters and the American people at large. Now, a new report from NBC News shows that the Trump campaign has decided to put its money where its candidate’s mouth is, and launch a “formidable” ground game in the cycle’s most crucial primary state.

Other candidates shied away from Iowa, not wanting to peak too early; Trump, on the other hand, made multiple, high-profile and highly-attended appearances in the state, and has now embedded 12 paid staffers—more than any other candidate currently campaigning in Iowa—to put boots on the ground and start doing the grunt work that actually wins elections.

The man leading his operation, Chuck Lautner, is local, and highly respected by activists and operatives alike:

“They are doing everything right. I have no doubt that their numbers are there. If they stay solid, they could turn out 23 to 26 percent of the vote — enough to win,” a longtime GOP operative in the state told NBC News.

“[Chuck Laudner] knows how to build a database. He knows how to organize grassroots. And he talks their language,” the Republican said. “He is a deity among conservative grassroots.”

The staffers are reportedly active, and they’re talking to voters—which is exactly what they should be doing. Even in 2015, with all the opportunities we have to campaign in new mediums, the single most important thing a candidate must do to win is to ask for votes. Simple exposure and idea-sharing, while helpful, isn’t nearly enough.

More from NBC News:

The campaign is executing an extensive ground game operation. The next phase—identifying neighborhood leaders who commit to bringing a certain number of Trump supporters to caucus in February—should be in place by Thanksgiving, Laudner said.

“We have the total tonnage of names and support–we’ve got the numbers,” Laudner said. “Now we just have to point everybody in the direction.”

There are 1,682 precincts in Iowa. Laudner’s team is determining the number of supporters needed in each of those precincts to result in a caucus-day win and then identifying “precinct captains” to help turn out those numbers on caucus day.

“Let’s say we need 40 votes in whatever precinct—[the designated Trump precinct captain] will say, ‘Here’s the 40 people who are going to vote for Trump,'” Laudner said.

The campaign intends to designate their precinct captains—likely more than one captain in most precincts—by Thanksgiving.

Neighborhood leaders—and especially precinct captains—are crucial to success, especially when you’re dealing with a caucus situation as opposed to a simple primary. The effort is more local, and with these types of leaders and organizers, you’re better able to get personal with neighbors and friends and make a persuasive case for your candidate.

Names and support are one thing. Generating enough momentum to turn those sign-ups into neighborhood leaders and surrogates is another. That’s where the real work begins, so I’m going to reserve judgment on the success of their grassroots campaign until I see how many people step up to knock on doors, make phone calls, and drag their friends to the caucus. I have to admit, though—it’s a good strategy.

Multiple precinct captains? I’ve had fever dreams about those—so we’ll see if they can manage it.

The campaign just reported its 3Q fundraising (remember: self-funding) number—$3.9 million, which is competitive with other candidates:

GOP 3rd quarter fundraising

However, the campaign also reports that they have spent just $1.9 million thusfar, which represents a far lower burn rate than we’ve seen in other candidates like Jeb Bush or Ben Carson.

Trump has a self-funded media campaign, a self-funded ground game, and his polling numbers are still impressing even skeptical pundits.

Whaddya know—this is looking more and more like a campaign every day.

Follow Amy on Twitter @ThatAmyMiller


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