Donald Trump flirts with Iowa's retail politics

Story highlights

  • Trump's 10-minute visit to the franchise's location here late Friday morning marked the billionaire candidate's closest brush in Iowa with the retail politics that he has largely eschewed
  • Trump's Pizza Ranch visit on Friday, however, had little resemblance to the swings dozens of presidential candidates have made through the franchise's restaurants

Waukee, Iowa (CNN)Donald Trump on Friday flirted with retail politics.

Nearly seven months to the day after he launched his presidential campaign, Trump made his first stop at the franchise restaurant that has become synonymous with the Iowa caucuses' intimate style of presidential campaigning: Pizza Ranch.
Trump's 10-minute visit to the franchise's location here late Friday morning marked the billionaire candidate's closest brush in Iowa with the retail politics that he has largely eschewed in favor of drawing thousands of supporters at a time to large rallies.
    And the stop came immediately after Trump -- in another departure from his distinct campaign style -- spoke to his smallest audience yet earlier Friday morning at an intimate venue in Urbandale that could fit only 275 supporters, according to Jon Rech, the Urbandale fire marshal. That crowd size, while small in comparison to most of Trump's campaign events, still overshadows the close-quarters events most candidates hold throughout the state where they often draw only a few dozen voters.
    Despite stepping foot in a Pizza Ranch for the first time on Friday, the Republican front-runner managed to snag the endorsement of the franchise's founder and owner, Adrie Groeneweg, above the dozen other GOP candidates who have treated Pizza Ranch stops as the ritual they are in presidential stumping.
    And he's supporting Trump for the same reason as many of Trump's supporters.
    "I'm tired of the regular politician," Groeneweg said. "He's different. He's not a regular politician. He's somebody who says it the way it is. He's not -- you know the thing he talks about not being politically correct -- he's not and I like that about the guy."
    And like many of Trump's supporters in the Hawkeye State, Groeneweg's vote on February 1 will be the first time he has caucused for a presidential candidate.
    While the owner and founder of a staple of Iowa politics, Groeneweg has neither publicly endorsed nor caucused for a presidential candidate before and told reporters Friday he was motivated by the direction the country has been headed in the last couple of years. Groeneweg isn't apolitical, however, and donated $1,000 to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's successful Iowa campaign in 2008, according to the Des Moines Register.
    That's not to say he hasn't been around as candidates have stomped in and out of some of the 72 Pizza Ranch venues in Iowa that Groeneweg said became popular spots for candidates because most of the stores don't charge for the use of their private room.
    And despite endorsing Trump, Groeneweg said he's confident Pizza Ranch will remain a staple of Iowa politics -- and he'll welcome any candidate through his doors, even Hillary Clinton -- who was the first candidate to set foot in a Pizza Ranch ahead of the 2008 caucus.
    Trump's Pizza Ranch visit on Friday, however, had little resemblance to the swings dozens of presidential candidates have made through the franchise's restaurants.
    Trump's campaign rented out the Waukee location on Friday, with the restaurant opening its doors to just a few dozen campaign volunteers and staffers attending a caucus training session.
    "We're going to win!" Trump shouted to a cheering crew of campaign volunteers.
    A brief pep talk to his volunteers and a few questions from reporters later and Trump had already hopped into his motorcade, headed for the airport.
    But Groeneweg said he doesn't think Trump's atypical style of campaigning in Iowa will hurt the real estate mogul, who is running neck and neck with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in recent polls.
    "I think people understand that when there's a following of people around him, you know it's not like 30 people," Groeneweg said. "People understand that it's just one of those things that you can't have a thousand people come into a store that fits 200."