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Iowa GOP activists not sold on Trump

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Donald Trump says he would embrace the rigors of campaigning in Iowa if he decides to run for president, but Iowa Republican leaders say they doubt the celebrity businessman really knows what it takes to compete in the state’s presidential caucuses and wonder if he would commit the time and effort needed.

Although some state Republican Party leaders have welcomed the attention Trump’s presidential ideas have brought to the 2012 race and look forward to a giant fundraising dinner he will keynote in June, they also express skepticism about him as a candidate that borders on contempt.

“‘The Donald’ will be wherever the cameras are, and nowhere else,” said Doug Gross, a Des Moines Republican and longtime confidant of GOP Gov. Terry Branstad.

If he seeks the Republican nomination, Gross and others said, Trump would probably want to bypass the up-close campaigning and the behind-the-scenes meetings with local party activists that the Iowa caucus electorate expects from serious presidential contenders.

“I don’t think he’s prepared at all for what it means to run in the caucuses in Iowa,” said Sac County Republican Chairwoman Ann Trimble-Ray, a consultant to Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King and a leading party activist in GOP-heavy western Iowa. “I think that’s going to shock the socks off this guy.”

Trump’s prospects in Iowa, which has the first contest in the race for the 2012 nomination, became the subject of discussion this week after he discussed the possibility of running in a televised interview, and new public surveys showed him among the most popular hopefuls in the GOP field. He has also gotten encouragement from some veteran strategists.

“I will meet many, many people, maybe all of the people” in Iowa, Trump told The Des Moines Register last month. “If I decide to run, I will be shaking hands with everybody.”

Trump plans to announce his intentions sometime before his June 10 appearance at the GOP fundraiser in Des Moines. The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 6.

Not everyone is dismissing a Trump bid. Jay Kenneth Klinge, a Virginia-based GOP operative who helped Ronald Reagan’s campaign in Iowa more than 30 years ago, said this week he was volunteering to help, although it was not clear how. Trump called Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, home of the South’s first primary, to underscore what observers describe as his seriousness about running.

Since accepting the Iowa speaking invitation, Trump has called Iowa GOP officials and reporters in Iowa, promising to campaign aggressively in the state. A top deputy to Trump, Michael Cohen, visited Iowa last month to meet with party officials and veteran operatives.

Former longtime Iowa Republican Party finance director Darrell Kearney walked away from a meeting with Cohen doubtful that Trump’s team understood the demands of a successful caucus campaign, where candidates must trek to small towns and rural areas and meet with small groups of people.

“They thought as a celebrity candidate that he could spend a lot of money on television and radio. I personally don’t think that will work,” said Kearney, who has worked on Iowa caucus campaigns for 20 years.

Steve Scheffler, a Republican National Committeeman from West Des Moines, said Trump would attract attention. “But he, like every other candidate is going to have to be willing and able to answer tough questions.”

Trimble-Ray said Trump cannot be dismissed, though, because he is clearly exciting GOP activists. “People are looking for someone who can beat Obama, and they see him as a rock star,” she said.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press