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Donald Trump ignites his Iowa ground game with Eventbrite

Tyler Rowe is a lot like other college students: rushing a fraternity, studying pre-med and singing in an a capella group called Old Gold. Yet on the liberal-leaning University of Iowa campus, the 20-year old stands out because he is conservative. There's more: he is also a Trump precinct captain. He is the first to admit that if it weren't for Eventbrite, that probably wouldn't be the case.

"Without Eventbrite I don't think there would have been a way, honestly, to sign up. I would not have gone out of my way," Rowe explains. "Eventbrite reached out for the campaign, sort of."

Rowe signed up for a Trump rally this fall on the Eventbrite page, filling out his name, email, mailing address and cell phone number. In the section marked "Other Information," Rowe checked off the boxes indicating that he would like to volunteer for Trump and become a caucus captain. Rowe wasn't able to make it to the rally, but Eventbrite had captured all of his information for Trump's campaign. Tana Goertz, Trump's Iowa co-chair, reached out to him a few days later to see if he wanted to be a precinct captain, and Rowe agreed.

In posting all Trump rallies on Eventbrite, the campaign is using the platform as a primary tool to capture, track and reach out to rally attendees. Rowe is just one of many Iowans that has turned into a bigger Trump fan or, in his case, a precinct captain because of Eventbrite.

The presence of the online platform is clear at Trump campaign rallies in Iowa, where lines are filled with people holding Eventbrite tickets -- crinkled in their hands, pockets, or purses, or electronically displayed on their phones. Volunteers check phones and collect the Eventbrite tickets -- which have the attendees' names.

"I didn't know how to get in. I showed up and the lady in the front of me in the line... gave me the information," explained Mariana Duran, a 40-year-old Iowan who recently attended a Trump event in Council Bluffs. "So I got a free ticket online on my phone and got to go in."

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The campaign does not appear to be using Eventbrite to electronically track who showed up and who did not -- volunteers simply collect the tickets. But online sign-ups allow the campaign to follow up with all the attendees. Duran, who believes that Trump would be the "Mr. Perfect President that the U.S. needs," has been getting emails from the Trump campaign since the rally. She knows every time Trump is in Iowa. And she is not alone.

Matt Strawn, former chairman of the Iowa GOP, was not contacted by the campaign until he signed up on Eventbrite to attend a Trump event in Urbandale in mid-January. "I did it just like a regular Joe Iowa would," he says of the online sign-up process. After he registered on Eventbrite, the campaign reached out to him four times leading up to the event, and he got two follow-up calls after the event.

"I was impressed that there was follow-up. I attended other campaign events last week where I did not have that level of follow-up," Strawn explains.

It appears that anyone whose information is captured via Eventbrite for a Trump Iowa rally gets added to the campaign's Iowa distribution list -- even non-Trump supporters. Indeed, a number of Sanders supporters recently attended a Trump rally and they, too, are getting the campaign's emails.

At this point, follow-up seems to be limited to alerting Iowans of future Trump rallies and asking if they have decided to support Trump. There have been few details provided about caucus night itself, though the events do stress the importance and the ease of caucusing.

Trump did send a "Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays" cards to a wide array of Iowa GOPers -- some of whom have never attended a Trump rally, including Jeb Bush campaign staffers. It was signed "I Love You All, Donald J. Trump." This shows that the campaign is using another list of voters, but the source of this list is unclear, since the campaign did not buy the Iowa GOP caucus-goer list. The campaign did get access to the Republican National Committee (RNC) voter file in late December.

Eventbrite is expanding the possibilities for the campaign outreach game. More than 400 campaign events have been held via Eventbrite in Iowa since August 2015, according to the company. In 2012, Ron Paul was the only primary candidate to use Eventbrite.

"The tactics that campaigns deploy to connect with voters evolve as new platforms are introduced each election cycle. Candidates today are leveraging town halls and rallies to not only shake hands and take selfies, but to capture actionable data about some of the most valuable supporters," said Chad Barth, a senior political and government relations manager for Eventbrite.

Some campaigns use Eventbrite in a more dynamic way than others. For example, the "Other Information" section can collect specific information that allows the campaigns to slice and dice the attendees into groups and follow up accordingly. All of the information collected on Eventbrite can be exported and, thus, analyzed by a data scientist.


But use of Eventbrite means some potential supporters are being missed. A handful of Iowans who attended Trump rallies with a friend and did not sign up on Eventbrite say they were not contacted by the campaign.

It is also unclear if the Trump campaign is encouraging volunteers to capture all the possible information on supporters that they can, with or without Eventbrite. For example, two Iowan couples called the Trump Headquarters in Des Moines a few weeks ago to say they were coming to Iowa from from Arizona (where they spend winters) to caucus on February 1. A volunteer wrote down their names but failed to collect their contact information. As a result, the campaign cannot reach out to these couples with caucus information that they could share with Iowa friends.

If the Eventbrite strategy proves successful, it could turn online information gathering into on-the-ground voter mobilization.

Marlow Mormann, a lawyer who attended a Trump rally on the Des Moines Fairgrounds, clicked the "Caucus Leader" box on his Eventbrite ticket. Afterwards, the campaign reached out to him about caucus training -- which he attended and soon, he was the precinct leader. Mormann was given a list of about 45 people to call and doors to knock on. He is working on those but will also bring in supporters with his knowledge of the area.

"I know the Republicans in my neighborhood. My neighbors aren't on the list, and I know they will go," Marmann said.

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