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In a crowded race for Iowa, the importance of being Donald

While other candidates crisscross the state of Iowa and drop money on political ads, it seems like they just can’t buy the attention Donald Trump has been getting. Gwen Ifill examines why the candidate has had such popularity, and how it is affecting the race.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Ready or not, the 2016 campaign is now shifting into higher gears. Today alone, candidates were fanned out at events in six states.

    But among the more than a score of White House hopefuls, one is dominating the conversation. The question is, how will that translate into votes?

    Gwen takes a look at the unconventional Donald Trump strategy in Iowa, and whether it's working with the Republican faithful.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    He's the anti-establishment candidate, playing by his own rules. Let Rick Santorum, the 2012 caucus winner, visit all 99 Iowa counties. Trump has only bothered to come here five times since he announced in June.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON Democratic Presidential Candidate:

    I think about my mother, Dorothy.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let Hillary Clinton and Ben Carson pay to run soft focus biographical ads in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    That's why I have always done this, for all the Dorothys.

  • BEN CARSON Republican Presidential Candidate:

    Together, we can make America great again.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Trump gets his attention for free. The result, he's well ahead in every poll. This is what unconventional looks like. Last weekend, Trump buzzed the state fair in his branded helicopter. Sunday, he called for the deportation of immigrants and the end of constitutionally protected birthright citizenship.

  • CHUCK TODD, Moderator, Meet The Press:

    You're going to split up families. You're going to deport children.

  • DONALD TRUMP, Republican Presidential Candidate:

    Chuck, no, no, we're going to keep the families together. We have to keep the families together, but they have to go.

  • CHUCK TODD:

    But you're going to…

  • DONALD TRUMP:

    But they have to go.

  • CHUCK TODD:

    What if they have no place to go?

  • DONALD TRUMP:

    We will work with them. They have to go. Chuck, we either have a country or we don't have a country.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Although many Republican voters lean toward Trump's point of view, one Iowa pro-immigration group found only 30 percent of likely caucus goers agree.

    But that would be sweating the details. John Hulsizer, one of Trump's 10 paid advisers in Iowa, says policy is not necessarily the point.

    People have put a lot of money on the ground in terms of just blanketing every county with a place that has Trump signage or what — whoever. You're not doing it that way.

  • JOHN HULSIZER JR., Trump Campaign Adviser, Iowa:

    We're really attracting a lot of new voters, a lot of new people that want to go to the caucuses. It's really been surprising how many people are coming to us saying they want to volunteer. We haven't even focused on needing to add staff because we have so many people, new people coming out wanting to volunteer to help Mr. Trump.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Art Sanders is a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines.

    What are we seeing here, reality or a reality show?

  • ARTHUR SANDERS, Drake University:

    It's sort of both at the same time. There's a real campaign going on. But we're far enough out that, especially with Donald Trump in the campaign, that it's largely playing out as this very strange attempt by people to get people to pay attention to them, especially on the Republican side, when there are so many people running.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, then how do you explain the Donald Trump phenomenon on the right?

  • ARTHUR SANDERS:

    Part of the Republican base ethos for many years has been Washington is broken, politicians are all corrupt, we need to change the system, and outsiders, true — everybody on the Republican side is campaigning as an outsider, and Donald Trump is that to the nth degree.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    When Trump is not physically in the state, you have to search for signs of his campaign. This is Trump's only headquarters in Iowa. Longtime activists have never seen anything like it.

    Bob Vander Plaats, who runs the conservative group The Family Leader, invited all the candidates to speak at an Iowa forum last month moderated by pollster Frank Luntz.

  • FRANK LUNTZ, Founder, Luntz Global:

    Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DONALD TRUMP:

    I'm not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so.

    I think I — if I do something wrong, I think I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't. Now, when I take — when we go in church and when I drink my little wine, which is about the only wine I drink, and have my little cracker, I guess that's a form of asking for forgiveness.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Even that answer doesn't appear to have hurt Trump among Christian conservatives.

  • BOB VANDER PLAATS, The Family Leader:

    I think what Mr. Trump is doing is he's taking this lack of political correctness to a whole 'nother level. He's tapping into the frustration of the American people that are just sick and tired of their government. They believe politicians lie to them all the time. And whether they agree with how Donald Trump is saying it or they don't agree with it, they just like that somebody is saying it, because he's making the others respond to him.

    So that's why I think Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls right now.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In the case of Donald Trump, simply being famous may be enough to force every other candidate to respond to his every utterance.

    Just yesterday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, once considered the front-runner in Iowa, said he agreed with Trump about revoking birthright citizenship. The Trump Iowa team is ecstatic.

    How much of this is about celebrity and how much of this is about policy?

  • JOHN HULSIZER JR.:

    I would then to say that you can't even really separate that, because policy, with what Mr. Trump has started to come out with, with policy, is going to work, and his celebrity status is what probably started to drive people to question coming to see him.

    They're tired of people having to stop and think about what they're going to say before they answer, whereas Mr. Trump, he just lets it go.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And when Trump lets it go, he overshadows the entire race, including the long line of candidates competing for attention, money and votes.

    For now, it's threatening to turn the entire race upside down and may already have.

    I'm Gwen Ifill in Des Moines.

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