WAUKEE, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has finally paid a visit to a hallowed mainstay of Iowa politics: A local Pizza Ranch restaurant.
With just over two weeks to go before the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, the billionaire businessman dipped his toe into retail politics Friday, making an unannounced stop at the Waukee location of the fried chicken and pizza chain.
It was his first visit to a Pizza Ranch restaurant, almost synonymous with Iowa politics. They typically host numerous candidates during campaign season for meet-and-greet events.
But Trump, whose campaign has broken every rule of the traditional campaign playbook, didn’t do the usual glad-handing. He didn’t even try a slice during his visit, or serve himself at the ranch-themed restaurant’s signature buffet.
Instead, he delivered a pep talk to several dozen campaign volunteers who had gathered for a caucus training session in a back room. And he touted an endorsement from Pizza Ranch President and co-founder Adrie Groeneweg. In all, Trump spent less than 15 minutes at the restaurant, which was closed to the general public. Some reporters were invited along.
Trump has taken an atypical approach to Iowa campaigning, trading the usual visits to local diners and coffee shops for massive campaign rallies at venues like stadiums and hockey arenas.
Asked why he’d decided to stop in Friday, Trump offered the following:
“You know why? ‘Cause I like the pizza.”
“Because the founder endorsed me, that’s why,” he added.
“He’s the owner and the founder,” said Trump. “He endorsed Trump. Do we love him?”
Trump’s visit came a day after a heated Republican debate, in which he repeatedly tangled with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is running neck-and-neck with him in some Iowa polls.
Last week, Cruz had suggested that Trump wasn’t devoting the time and energy needed to woo Iowa voters, telling supporters, “I believe the only way to compete and win in the state of Iowa is to come and spend the time asking the voters for their support. Looking them in the eye.”
Trump said Friday he is planning to spend much of the next two weeks in the state, and displayed his usual confidence about his chances.
“I think we’re going to do really, really well,” Trump told reporters.
Groeneweg said he decided to support Trump after seeing him at a rally in Spencer, Iowa in December. He told reporters that he’s never caucused personally, despite his restaurants’ role in Iowa politics. He said that’s going to change on Feb. 1, when he plans to caucus for Trump.
“I’m tired of the regular politician,” said Groeneweg. “He’s not a regular politician. He’s somebody that says it the way it is.”
He also didn’t seem to mind Trump’s brief visit to the restaurant.
“I wanted him to eat, but they’re…busy people,” said Groeneweg, noting that Trump typically attracts a large following.
“People understand that…you can’t have 1,000 people coming to a store that fits 200,” he said.
Trump headed straight to Iowa after the debate, doing a live television interview before dawn at a Des Moines coffee shop and holding a town hall at the Living History Farms in Urbandale. The event was one of his smallest in recent memory, drawing about 300 people to hear him speak.
Trump’s campaign also released a new ad on Friday featuring footage from a recent rally in Lowell, Massachusetts.
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