Trump’s Nevada turnout strategy: On the ground — and high in the sky

Holly Bailey
·National Correspondent
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The Trump International Hotel, branded with the name of the GOP presidential frontrunner, is a prominent feature of the Las Vegas skyline. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — Campaign signs are few and far between here on the roads of Nevada’s largest city. But there is one ad that rises above them all. The gleaming ivory and gold tower of the Trump International Hotel, located just off the Las Vegas Strip.

While it’s technically not an ad for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the 64-story building, wrapped in 24-carat-gold glass and branded with the candidate’s name in giant gold lettering, can be seen for miles in every direction across the desert landscape of Sin City. And as the race for the Republican nomination shifts here Tuesday, aides of the real estate mogul-turned- frontrunner say they believe the building is the best publicity they could ever have for the leadership and business acumen Trump could bring to the White House.

It’s a decidedly less fancy suite in a bare-bones office park a few miles away that could prove pivotal as Trump tries to maintain his winning spree in the early voting states of the Republican primary. It’s where the Trump campaign has set up shop, trying to turn out voters for Tuesday’s caucuses here.

On Sunday, the office, which was decorated with Trump banners and signs, was packed with at least 40 volunteers — some wearing the “Make America Great Again” trucker hats made famous by the candidate. They roamed around with clipboards, making last-minute calls on their cellphones to prospective supporters, and talked to people who had walked in off the street asking for Trump yard signs and looking for more information about how a caucus works.

To any campaign, it would be a hopeful sign — an office buzzing with activity on the eve of an important vote. But Nevada’s caucuses are often hard to predict. One of the biggest unknowns is how Trump, an unconventional candidate who is relying more on his celebrity and insurgent appeal than a traditional campaign apparatus, will perform. Many of the early polls have Trump far ahead of his rivals Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, but polling in Nevada is notoriously unreliable, which is why the ground game leading into the caucus is so important.

Last week in South Carolina, Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, was tight-lipped on what exactly the ground operation is in Nevada, just as he has been about the mechanics of the Trump machine in other early voting states. “We don’t talk about the ground game,” he said.

But he did reveal that the campaign was betting on a mix of Trump’s star power, his longtime ties to the state, his unconventional candidacy and general momentum from his wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina to propel him to victory in the Silver State.

“If you believe the public polls, it could be a good night, but the caucus is a unique thing,” Lewandowski acknowledged. “It’s a very different thing. It’s about ground game. It’s about making sure your people show up and vote.”

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GOP hopeful Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up to supporters at a December rally in Las Vegas. (Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters)

It’s a lesson the Trump campaign learned the hard way in Iowa, where the real estate mogul came up short, even though he was leading in the polls right up to caucus day. When the campaign shifted to New Hampshire, where Trump had led in the polls for months, nothing was left to chance. The campaign quickly assembled ground troops, made up mostly of unpaid volunteers, to flood the state, knocking on doors and making phone calls to supporters to get them to the polls.

At the same time, Trump added smaller events and unannounced stops to his itinerary — something he increased in South Carolina. And though Lewandowski again offered no details, he implied that the campaign will be employing a similar strategy in Nevada, although on a much shorter time scale.

Although Trump hasn’t campaigned in the state since January, Lewandowski argued that his boss not only enters the state with the momentum of a frontrunner but also as someone with several advantages the other GOP candidates do not have. It’s not just that people know him here. Yes, that gleaming building with his name on it just off the Las Vegas Strip is a constant, incandescent emblem of Trump’s success. But it is also full of workers who could potentially vote.

“Mr. Trump has a giant building out there with his name on the top, so maybe that’s a good thing, and he employs a lot of people,” Lewandowski said. “He’s invested a lot of money in the state, so I think people understand that.”

In a state that has been particularly hard hit by the foreclosure crisis and the ups and downs of the economy, Lewandowski believes that Trump’s campaign motto — to “make America great again” — will resonate.