Donald Trump's campaign announced that he's barnstorming through Iowa this weekend and into next week with five rallies, making good on his promise to go for broke in the state that casts the first votes of the presidential election.
Trump's decision represents something of a gamble. Iowa is a place where he's lost his lead in the polls to Ted Cruz and where Trump's larger-than-life campaign style runs counter to that of a state known for retail politics.
In Iowa, candidates generally meet voters in hold small town-hall campaign events to maximize the opportunity for voters to have close encounters with would-be presidents. Not Trump. He eschews rope lines for massive rallies that are more stadium rock concert than coffeehouse acoustic sessions.
By committing to spend most of next week in Iowa, Trump's unconventional presidential campaign "is at least partially adopting the traditional retail politics caucus strategy," said Christopher Larimer, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa.
"In a way, Trump's early hesitation about Iowa almost feels like Romney in 2012, but the Palin endorsement is a strong statement about his seriousness in the state," said Larimer, referring Trump's joint appearance in Ames earlier this week with 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, a favorite among the state's critical constituency of evangelical Christians.
In addition, Trump has made a rare and specific direct policy pitch to Iowans on the issue of ethanol mandate. Iowa is the nation's top producer of the alternative fuel. Earlier this week, Trump read from a piece of paper while standing at a podium supporting an increase the amount of ethanol required in the fuel mix. That was notable stylistically because Trump rarely—if ever—reads from prepared remarks while campaigning.
Larimer said that Trump appears to be telling Iowans "that he not only cares about winning generally, but also that he cares about Iowa issues, which is what Iowa caucus-goers want to see."
Trump's ethanol statement came just hours after Iowa Governor Terry Branstad urged Iowans not to vote for Cruz because of his "anti-renewable fuel stand." "It would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him," Branstad told reporters.
All of that has Cruz slamming the billionaire celebrity as being part of the Washington establishment, insinuating that Washington insiders are coalescing behind Trump.
"We're seeing the Washington establishment abandoning Marco Rubio and unifying behind Donald Trump," Cruz told reporters in New Hampshire on Wednesday. "And we're seeing conservatives coming together and unifying behind our campaign. And if conservatives unite, we win."
"Disturbing" was how Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson described the charge, which she then mocked.
"The Cruz campaign and his supporters are saying that anyone not supporting Cruz is all of a sudden establishment," Pierson said. "By that logic, Sarah Palin is part of the political establishment. Are they serious?"