NATIONAL NEWS

How an animated character named Marlon could help Trump win Iowa’s caucuses

Jan 8, 2024, 9:06 PM

A video plays before former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Terrace View Event Center i...

A video plays before former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Terrace View Event Center in Sioux Center, Iowa, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. Well before Trump takes the stage, a waiting audience of hundreds of supporters sits captivated as dramatic music begins to swell throughout the room. On projector screens, a rotating Planet Earth appears. “Making America Great Again starts one place on Earth, and one place only,” a deep-voiced narrator begins as the image zooms into the middle of the U.S. “Right here in Iowa.”(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa (AP) — Well before Donald Trump takes the stage, a waiting audience of hundreds of supporters sits captivated as dramatic music begins to swell throughout the room. On projector screens, a rotating Planet Earth appears.

“Making America Great Again starts one place on Earth, and one place only,” a deep-voiced narrator begins as the image zooms into the middle of the U.S. “Right here in Iowa.”

It’s the beginning of a nearly three-minute “Schoolhouse Rock!”-like video featuring an animated character named Marlon, who informs viewers of “everything you need to know about how to successfully caucus for President Trump.”

The goal is to generate a commanding win for the former president in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses on Jan. 15, setting the stage for a romp through the Republican primary and a strong start to the general election campaign. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley are battling for a notable finish in Iowa that could propel one of them to a head-to-head challenge with Trump for the GOP nomination.

Most campaigns use face time at events to encourage Iowans to caucus for the candidate, and they rely on pledge cards with names, addresses and phone numbers to contact supporters again later. But the Trump campaign doesn’t wait until after the voters leave the venue –- they are filling in any gaps in knowledge of how the caucuses work on site.

The civics lesson, with its easy-to-follow instructions, is a reflection of just how quirky the caucus process is. Unlike primaries, which allow voters to cast their ballots throughout the day, Iowa caucusgoers are required to show up at a specific time — 7 p.m. Central time on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday — and at a site that may be different from their usual polling place. Caucusgoers also have to stay put for what can be a lengthy process of protocol and supporting speeches.

And it’s often cold, sometimes snowing. Below-zero temperatures are forecast across Iowa on caucus day.

“We’d love bad weather,” Trump said Saturday in Newton, arguing that it will dissuade other candidates’ supporters but not his. “My people will walk on glass.”

But it’s not only the weather that may make it challenging for people to participate.

Marin Curtis, 25, from North Liberty stood in line for a Trump rally in Coralville, but she has never been to a caucus before and she doesn’t know much about it. Besides, she said, she has a toddler and might not be able to make it.

Ron Wheeldon, 64, an undecided truck driver from Newton, Iowa, was scoping out candidates at several campaign events, even though he’ll have to work the night shift on the day of the caucuses.

And in Sioux Center last month, Steve and Shari Rehder of Hawarden were attending a forum of some major candidates, including DeSantis and Haley. They said they were interested in an alternative to Trump. But whoever they like won’t be getting their vote on caucus night — they’ll be out of state on vacation.

The get-out-the-vote efforts by Trump’s 2024 campaign are a nod to the lessons learned since 2016, when the political novice acknowledged not knowing the first thing about caucuses. Trump finished second to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that year in Iowa’s leadoff voting, though he would go on to win the next three early states, the GOP nomination and ultimately the presidency.

This year, the former president has been touting his lead in national and early state polls, but he has also warned his supporters not to get complacent and says he isn’t taking Iowa for granted. In Sioux Center last Friday, he kicked off the first of at least eight “commit to caucus” events and noted he plans to be back in Iowa on caucus day.

“Look, we gotta get out and vote because, you know, bad things happen when you sit back,” Trump said, encouraging the crowd to “really show the strength” of support. “We’re voting now, but it’s going to make a big difference in November.”

Wrapped in a blanket waiting in line for Trump’s rally, Josie Zeutenhorst, a 20-year-old from Sioux Center who attends Dordt University, said she wanted to hear from Trump in person instead of on TV. She recognizes how much of an impact voters can have on election results but wasn’t planning on participating in a caucus.

“I don’t know enough, I guess,” she said. “I don’t really know how it works.”

In a follow-up interview after the rally, Zeutenhorst said she found the caucus instructional video “very helpful” and felt more comfortable having learned the process.

“I really am considering it,” she said of participating in the caucuses, though she still isn’t sure it’ll work with her schedule.

Regan Ronning, 52, who attended a Trump rally back in 2016, said the Trump campaign called him a few months ago to ask if he’d be a caucus captain. Now he’s door knocking and making phone calls to people in his area.

“Education’s a big part of it,” he said. Ronning thinks the videos and volunteers help, since some of the people he talks to are confused about what a caucus is. “I just try to tell them what the process is, that it’s nothing scary.”

Trump’s team has said they’ve held hundreds of trainings for their volunteers and precinct captains, the individuals representing the campaign within a given precinct on caucus night.

The campaign also has had captains prioritize a new assignment — to bring 10 people to the caucuses who have never participated in one before. The campaign has identified several hundred thousand Trump supporters across Iowa who fit the bill.

It’s an approach they hope to replicate in the general election, as they seek to chip away at the Biden coalition and win over voters who have generally supported Democrats.

Meanwhile, Trump’s competitors are trying to persuade voters in Iowa that the race isn’t over yet.

“This is the most impactful vote you can cast. The number of people that go to these caucuses is 150-, 200,000 people,” DeSantis told a crowd in Sioux Center last week. “So if you’re coming and you bring neighbors or family members, all that, you’re packing a big punch.”

___

Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

National News

Associated Press

A judge temporarily blocks Iowa law that allows authorities to charge people facing deportation

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked an Iowa law that allowed law enforcement in the state to file criminal charges against people with outstanding deportation orders or who previously had been denied entry to the U.S. U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher issued a preliminary injunction because he said […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear a challenge to governor’s 400-year school funding veto

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear a challenge to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ partial veto that locked in a school funding increase for the next 400 years, the justices announced Monday. The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Litigation Center filed a lawsuit in April arguing the governor exceeded his authority. The group […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Retired AP reporter Hoyt Harwell dies at 93. He covered key events in the American South

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Hoyt Garland Harwell, a longtime reporter for The Associated Press who covered key events in the American South and was a mentor to young reporters, has died. He was 93. Harwell died at home June 12 following a brief illness, according to his obituary. Harwell worked for the AP for 42 […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Federal appellate panel sends Michigan pipeline challenge to state court

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s lawsuit seeking to shut down part of a petroleum pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac belongs in state court, a federal appellate panel ruled Monday. The pipeline’s operator, Enbridge Inc., moved the case from state court to federal court more than two years past the deadline for changing […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Small plane with 1 aboard crashes into a Massachusetts river

LAWRENCE, Massachusetts (AP) — A small plane with one pilot aboard crashed into a Massachusetts river on Monday, according to authorities. It wasn’t immediately clear if the pilot survived the crash or was injured. The Federal Aviation Administration said the single-engine Van’s Aircraft RV-6A crashed into the Merrimack River in the town of Lawrence at […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

No lie: Perfectly preserved centuries-old cherries unearthed at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

MOUNT VERNON, Va. (AP) — George Washington never did cut down the cherry tree, despite the famous story to the contrary, but he did pack away quite a few bottles of the fruit at his Mount Vernon home. Dozens of bottles of cherries and berries — impossibly preserved in storage pits uncovered from the cellar […]

3 hours ago

How an animated character named Marlon could help Trump win Iowa’s caucuses