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Can Trump turn his fans in Minnesota into actual Republican voters?

Sure, the Donald is popular. But it’s an open question whether he can build a campaign organization in Minnesota to turn out voters for the state’s precinct caucuses on March 1.

Donald Trump makes his way through the crowd after addressing a Tea Party rally against the Iran nuclear deal at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Donald Trump officially won the Minnesota Republican Party’s very unofficial corn poll of presidential candidates at the State Fair, where visitors filled growlers with corn to indicate their preference.  

And Trump won by a sizable margin – getting 25.5 percent of the votes in the field of seven. (Check out the full results here.)

All of which raises the question: Can Trump build a campaign organization in Minnesota to turn those kernels into actual people who will go to the state’s precinct caucuses on March 1? After all, as The Upshot column in the New York Times noted“… amassing the delegates and voters to win the nomination is a lot harder than withstanding attacks on controversial comments five or six months before an election.”

To find out, I asked some party activists how they viewed Trump’s appeal and his capacity to turn personal popularity into political reality.  

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Bob Maginnis, president of the Republican Seniors of Minnesota, worked the GOP’s State Fair both and witnessed the support from fairgoers. “I’m flabbergasted at what he’s been doing, but he sure seems to be getting a lot of people on his side,” Maginnis said. “When he first started, I thought, what a clown. But he’s beginning to make an awful lot of sense.” 

Maginnis said he has seen no evidence of a Trump organization in the state and, uncommitted to any candidate himself, he looks at Trump as a long shot for a caucus win. 

For a candidate like Trump, organization isn’t as critical, according to Jack Rogers, president of the Tea Party Alliance. He believes Trump will maintain the mainstream and social media presence that will propel his supporters to the caucuses, where the winners of a straw poll will bind delegates to the national convention.

“He’s got money and he has his own media outlet,” he said. “He will have an organization, and he will be there.”   

As for Trump’s positions on taxes, abortion, and health care — all of which are antithetical to the Tea Party — Rogers thinks it’s simply a matter of education. Not of voters, though: of Trump. “He is not well informed yet, but he will be informed,” he said. “I think he will choose a vice presidential candidate that will shore up those issues.”   

Trump still hasn’t crashed and burned in the manner that many pundits predicted a few months ago, notes former 2nd Congressional District Chair Bill Jungbauer, but he thinks he will, eventually. 

Jungbauer is a Libertarian. Trump, he says emphatically, is not. “He [Trump] does what he needs to do for him,” Jungbauer said. “I believe he’s another Jesse Ventura, only with thicker skin.”

Like Maginnis, Jungbauer said he has seen no grass-roots efforts on behalf of Trump, and says, in fact, the strongest support at the caucus level is for Libertarian favorite Sen. Rand Paul, whose father, Ron Paul, controlled Minnesota’s delegation to the national convention in 2012.

Still, “it’s possible Trump could pull something off,” Jungbauer said.

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With the earliest primaries and the March caucus still months off, Maginnis said it’s way too early to predict a Trump turnout in Minnesota. 

I think it might depend upon on what happens in Iowa, in New Hampshire, what happens in those earlier states,” he said. “That might be a momentum thing that keeps him going. Or he might say something so stupid that people are going to hate him.”