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In Iowa, Trump gives retail campaigning a shot

Big personality. Small-scale campaign stop. January 15, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Morgan

URBANDALE, Iowa — Welcome to the Pizza Ranch, Donald Trump.

Every presidential candidate who visits Iowa tends to spend their days holding small, town-hall style events, and stopping at bars and restaurants around the state -- a staple of campaigning here. Every candidate, that is, except Trump. Until today.

Trump arrived at the Living History Farms after a round of post-debate television interviews Friday morning, where 275 attendees — according to a count by the fire marshal — crowded into the relatively small lodge to hear the billionaire businessman. Several of his supporters said they were informed that Trump would be in the area via email early Friday morning. (The fire marshal stood at the door to enforce the room’s maximum capacity.) It was a sharp departure for the real estate mogul, who typically holds events at large arenas where thousands gather to hear him deliver one of his famously raucous stump speeches.

Trump visibly feeds off of crowds' energy at those big rallies. Here in Urbandale, in keeping with the size of the crowd -- and the minimal sleep he had last night -- he took a scaled-down approach. He kept his stump speech to just 15 minutes, during which he hit his typical anti-Washington themes, before taking questions for another 20 minutes.

More important than the size of the crowd: the intensity of their support in the home stretch to the Feb. 1 caucuses. He even managed to convince a few attendees to caucus for him. “I wasn’t too sure when I got here, but I’m definitely voting for him now,” said Dave Haines, of West Des Moines, after the event. “I’m just sick of politicians.”

Trump told the crowd that he’s not interested in lowering expectations out of fear that momentum could turn against him if he places second in the Iowa caucuses.

"I want to win Iowa. You have to get out to the caucuses,” he told the crowd. Throughout the event Trump urged his supporters to show up to caucus on Feb. 1. “Maybe they won't show up, I don't know, but it seems crazy because some of those people are waiting in line for seven hours in the cold,” Trump said. “I don't even know how they do it...and then they won't show up to caucus?”

Following his event in Urbandale, Trump made an unlisted lunchtime stop at a nearby Iowa Pizza Ranch, where television reporters crowded to see The Donald in action.

Last summer, Chuck Laudner, the man organizing Trump's campaign effort in the state, told the Post's Colby Itkowitz that lunchtime candidate visits to an Iowa Pizza Ranch were a must -- for other candidates.

“If I was working for any of these other campaigns, ‘Oh, you gotta be at Pizza Ranch,’ ‘Oh, you gotta meet Suzy because Suzy is the most important person here,’ ” Laudner said, mockingly, during an interview recently at a Tasty Taco here. “And you go to this town, and Jack, if you get Jack, you get the whole town.” But, he added, pointing at the sparse lunchtime crowd, “you wouldn’t get as many people who are in this restaurant right now.”

Not everyone in the press pool made it in to the rare Trump retail stop: A New York Times reporter who was ejected from the event accused the campaign of keeping him out because he had recently written a negative story about the campaign's ground game in Iowa.

The Trump campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.