Potential Iowa Voters Talk Trump, Walker

Candidates' Contrasting Styles Divide Bike Ride Attendees

Donald Trump voluteer hands water to a BKE RIDER
A volunteer for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump hands water to a bicycle rider in Storm Lake, Iowa. Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

One of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s early rivals for the Republican presidential nomination is trying to score points with bicycle-riding Iowans.

Donald Trump’s campaign handed out t-shirts and other goodies to some of the thousands of people riding in an annual Iowa bike ride known as RAGBRAI this week.

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Trump, a real estate mogul and reality TV star-turned-presidential candidate, has a big blue bus following the RAGBRAI riders. At roadside stops, or at the end of the day’s ride, a handful of volunteers stand near the bus and try to get people to accept Trump t-shirts, buttons and a bottles of cold water.

Many people see the volunteers wearing Trump shirts and say no thanks. But one RAGBRAI rider who accepted the bottled water was a central Iowa resident who gave her name as Lee Ann. She said she liked Trump’s candid conservative views.

“And I know he has a lot of things to say that are a bit off the wall, but at least he’s telling — he’s bringing up issues that aren’t brought up by the Republicans that aren’t conservative,” she said.

Trump’s critics say he’s more than a bit off the wall, pointing to his attacks on Latinos and GOP U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, just to name a few targets. But Storm Lake, Iowa resident and Trump water-drinker Emil Liko said Trump’s criticism of undocumented Mexicans in the United States suits him just fine.

“We used to live in Arizona,” said Liko. “I think tightening up our borders is important. I think that we need to stand up and become … you know, you can’t be a strong country just by saying, ‘Hey you know what, everybody come in and do whatever you want.’”

Liko said he does wish Trump would pause a little before answering questions. Trump’s outspokenness has some Republicans wishing he’d drop out of the presidential race, fearing Trump can’t win the nomination or will hurt the GOP with independents in next year’s general election.

A Trump bus is following cyclists across Iowa, handing out water and campaign goodies. Chuck Quirmbach

A Des Moines resident, who gave his name as Dale and who said he’s an independent, is turned off by Trump.

“He just seems to pull the trigger a little quick, I think, doesn’t want to think things through, and seems to have his foot in the wrong place at times,” he said.

But if the billionaire businessman stays in the race, his brashness could make other GOP candidates look more appealing. Emil Liko’s wife, Karen Liko said she’s considering Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“He seems honest,” Liko said. “It’s hard to tell these days, but I mean, he seems honest and sincere about what he says. And we’re kind of keeping our eyes on everyone right now.”

The central Iowa resident Lee Ann also said she’s watching Walker.

“He’s proven what he’s been able to do in Wisconsin,” she said. “And I feel that if he stays conservative, I think we’ll be okay. And he might be the candidate, I don’t know. You have to just keep watching him weekly, and make sure his values stay the same.”

The Walker campaign didn’t respond to our inquiry about Trump’s bus and the giveaways to the bicycle riders. But when he was in Iowa last weekend, Walker not only criticized Trump’s comments about John McCain, but tried to draw a distinction between himself and Trump by highlighting his own victories in government.

“I think the difference between me and everybody else, there’s winners and fighters. Some people who are good at fighting on things … have yet to win those fights, at least on public policy,” said Walker.

That may win Walker voters in the long run, but for now, Trump is getting them a bottle at time.

Editor’s note: An earlier photo caption incorrectly identified the town of Storm Lake as Clear Lake. It has been updated.