'Camp Cruz': The Surplus Iowa Dorm Filled With Cruz Volunteers

Originally published on January 20, 2016 2:29 pm

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz had a logistical dilemma in Iowa: how to house dozens of volunteers from across the country for a month.

The solution: a three-story unused business college dormitory in Des Moines that sleeps up to 100, also known as "Camp Cruz." The campaign is in the process of opening a second dorm to house even more volunteers.

"We had so many volunteers that wanted to come in from out of state, the idea of trying to find a way to house them in a hotel was going to be cost-prohibitive," said Bryan English, Cruz's Iowa State director.

Cruz, who is locked in a struggle with Donald Trump to win the Iowa caucus, is betting that his campaign's grass-roots volunteers will tip the outcome in the state.

Camp Cruz houses volunteers from Florida, Tennessee and of course Texas, where Cruz is the junior senator.

Jerry Dunleavy was among the pack of tired Cruz volunteers returning to their temporary home on a Monday evening. Dunleavy had never been involved in politics but says Cruz is different — different enough for him to leave everything behind in Cleveland.

"Yeah, quit my job and came out here and nothing lined up after so it's all about helping Cruz win in Iowa and then we go from there," said Dunleavy.

For the role of managing the dorm — or RA if you will — English wanted someone like a camp counselor to pump up Camp Cruz every morning. He found a wiry 64-year-old named Ken Brolin from Long Island, N.Y., who fit the bill.

"I'm banging on the doors at quarter of 8. And I usually scream something like, 'Who's going to be the next president of the United States?!' And you hear the roof lift off," said Brolin. "Then I ask them why are we here and they say, 'To go out and get undecided voters!' And then we open the doors and go get 'em!"

While the dorm may have been built to house students, some of the Cruz volunteers are considerably older.

"I retired in May and I had some time on my hands and I saw the volunteer ... [a] 'be a volunteer for Ted Cruz' message came in the email and I said well, I think I'll go do that," said Alan Drennan of Grapevine, Texas.

The hallways are filled with pictures of Cruz and red, white and blue streamers. Many of the dorm rooms are pretty bare, although Maggie Wright's room has plenty of Cruz signs and a picture of him hugging her taped to the door.

Wright, who is from Texas, supported Cruz as far back as when he was Texas solicitor general and running for the Senate. She says she and other volunteers are "ready — all in, any expense," to make the final push for Cruz in Iowa.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's check on Ted Cruz, who's brought enough volunteers to Iowa that they need housing. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters stopped by Camp Cruz.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: How you doing?

JERRY DUNLEAVY: I'm all right.

MASTERS: On a Monday night, a pack of Ted Cruz volunteers returned to their temporary home. It's a three-story unused business college dormitory that sleeps up to 100 people. Jerry Dunleavy has never been involved in politics but says Cruz is different. He left everything behind at home in Cleveland.

DUNLEAVY: Yeah, quit my job (laughter) and came out here, nothing lined up after. So it's all about just helping Cruz win here in Iowa, and then we go from there.

MASTERS: There are people here from Florida, Tennessee and of course, Texas, where Cruz is the junior senator. Alan Drennan came from Grapevine, Texas.

ALAN DRENNAN: I retired in May, and I had some time on my hands, and I saw the volunteer - be a volunteer for Ted Cruz message came in the email, and I said, well, I'll think I'll go do that.

MASTERS: Bryan English is Cruz's Iowa state director.

BRYAN ENGLISH: We had so many volunteers that wanted to come in from out of state the idea of trying to find a way to house them in a hotel was going to be just cost prohibitive.

MASTERS: For the role of managing this place or RA if you will, English says he wanted someone like a camp counselor to pump up Camp Cruz every morning. He hired a wiry 64-year-old named Ken Brolin from Long Island.

KEN BROLIN: And I'm banging on the doors at quarter of 8, making sure everybody's getting ready. And I usually scream something like, who's going to be the next president of the United States, and you hear the roof lift off.

MASTERS: He walks through his morning routine that ends with everyone standing on the stairwell for a huddle and prayer.

BROLIN: And then I ask them why are we here, and they said to go out and get undecided voters. And then we open the doors and go get them.

(LAUGHTER)

BROLIN: Am I right, Jerry? Is that what I do?

MASTERS: The dorm hallways are filled with pictures of Ted Cruz and red, white and blue streamers. Maggie Wright is up from Texas. Her room is pretty bare, except for the essentials, lots of Cruz signs and a picture of him hugging her taped to the door. She says she supported him way back when he was Texas solicitor general and running for the Senate.

MAGGIE WRIGHT: Ted fought for the nation to have under God on our pledge and for our Second Amendment rights, so Ted had a record before he ever run for Senate. So he's just proven himself, and so I'm ready - we're ready to all in, any expense.

MASTERS: The state director says they're moving into a second dorm to house even more volunteers. For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.