Donald Trump's campaign draws dedicated followers

AP News
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Posted: Jun 13, 2016 4:04 AM
Donald Trump's campaign draws dedicated followers

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — Dale "Boomer" Ranney can get in Donald Trump's face like almost no one else.

She has nudged her way to the front of 21 of his rallies, passing up book after book, photo after photo for him to autograph, finding success some 66 times. He smiles at her in recognition now.

Ranney is not only a Trump superfan, she's also a forceful advocate and volunteer on behalf of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Since February, she has guided an ad hoc team of 50 volunteers who have made some 75,000 phone calls to voters to preach the gospel of Trump.

The eclectic, unpaid group — she calls them the "Trump T-Birds," after her red Ford convertible — includes a cancer patient making calls from her bed and 13-year-old who parrots Trumpisms.

All candidates count on volunteers to make calls to voters, distribute literature and knock on doors. Few have inspired the kind of passionate dedication that the celebrity billionaire has. For a candidate just now beginning traditional fundraising and woefully behind in building a staff of paid field organizers, this volunteer network could be especially vital when he faces presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton this fall.

Ranney, a 62-year-old thrice-married, beach-loving retired industrial engineer, is perhaps Trump's most committed volunteer of all.

"I feel guilty anytime I'm not on the phone calling for him," Ranney said. "I'm not getting paid, but it's a personal responsibility I feel to get him in the White House."

She approaches her volunteer work much like Trump approaches his bid, speaking off the cuff with prospective voters rather than reading from scripts the campaign has uploaded to its computerized calling program. She uses social media to build a following and makes her own assignments rather than waiting for directions.

"I really think all of us volunteers kind of copy Donald," Ranney said. "It's natural, not rehearsed, kind of ad-libbed."

With the primary nomination locked up for Trump, Ranney is starting to organize voter registration drives, acting on her gut instinct that he will inspire scores of people who have never voted to come out for him.

She wants to keep dialing up voters, too.

On the eve of the Indiana primary May 3, Ranney settled in at her home for another round of calls.

That evening, Ranney got to make her full Trump pitch. She'd reached a voter leaning toward Trump, but concerned about what exactly his stance was on Planned Parenthood, a women's health clinic this particular anti-abortion-rights voter didn't much care for.

"Oh, he's pro-life," Ranney assured the woman. "The only thing about the Planned Parenthood he's for is the fact that it helps women, you know, with their health issues. Other than that he's against it ma'am."

The call ended with Ranney feeling confident she'd found — maybe even helped convert — another Trump voter.

Ranney's T-Birds are a mix of ladies she knows in Myrtle Beach and Trump fans she's met on social media and in the front of the lines at rallies.

"I figure, if someone is dedicated enough to get in line at 3 a.m., they're dedicated enough to probably want to make some calls for Mr. Trump," she said.

The rallies have served as more than a meeting point between Ranney and her volunteers. It's also the way she gets the swag that she thinks helps keep them motivated. All of those books and photos Ranney has Trump sign? She gives them to volunteers who are hitting milestone numbers of phone calls, an enticement to keep at it.

There's a reason Ranney seems like she's done this before (she has) and that she seems to know Trump (she does).

Back in the 1990s, when she was Dale Barlow and living in Oklahoma, Ranney fell in political love with another billionaire businessman-turned-politician: Ross Perot. She volunteered for his two presidential campaigns and became an elected leader of the Reform Party he founded.

Her work with that party brought Ranney in contact with Trump, who was toying with the idea of seeking the presidency under the party's banner. She said she met with him twice, although he decided not to run.

But her dealings with Trump had made an impression. Fifteen years later, she was delighted to see him announce his bid as a Republican candidate for president.

"I believe in him," she said. "I've always believed in him."