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1968 Wharton graduate and presidential front-runner Donald Trump would like another one.

Credit: Amanda Suarez

COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA — Inside the cramped walls of a middle-school gymnasium, supporters of all different sorts came together to hear the gospel of 1968 Wharton graduate and presidential candidate Donald Trump.

There was a Nebraska man, transitioning between jobs, eager to see a spectacle, a taxi driver frustrated with “complying” to President Barack Obama’s healthcare law and a 21-year-old fan smitten with the brash, billionaire businessman. All made it to the altar of The Donald on Sunday for, if not a worship service, something close to it.

“Donald Trump is my hero,” said Chris Brueggeman, who drove us from Des Moines to Council Bluffs in his taxi. The real estate mogul “is not compliant” with the status quo, something Brueggeman admires.

In a type of prominent outreach to evangelical Christian voters, Trump organized the rally in the form of a conversation between him and Reverend Jerry Falwell, Jr. the president of Liberty University in Virginia. He pointed out Trump’s rough-around-the-edges style, but praised him as “actually very generous” and compared his appeal to Reagan, who as a divorcee was not a natural fit for Evangelical voters, but won them over nonetheless in 1980.

“One of the reasons I believe him is because so much of what he says is politically incorrect,” Falwell said.

For aggrieved supporters like one visitor who shouted out to a reporter in the media section, “The illegals are killing us!” Trump is both savior and truth-teller, with his Wharton degree an intellectual credential.

Photo by Amanda Suarez

“I like that he tells it like he sees it,” said Jared Thomas, a 21-year-old attendee who sported a white “Make America Great Again” hat. “He’s in the business world and I think that’s really good.”

When not targeting his Republican rivals and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump volleyed barbs at the media (during the rally, the Trump campaign prevented media members from leaving a designated pen at the back of the gym) to raucous applause from the crowd.

“The guys in the back, the press, are the most dishonest people out there,” he said.

What the media cannot deny, as Trump pointed out, was his commanding lead in a variety of national polls, including the respected Des Moines/Bloomberg poll released on Saturday.

Photo by Amanda Suarez

While the poll has him narrowly beating Cruz by five percentage points in Iowa, Trump noted one category where he is markedly behind: likability. He has the highest unfavorability rating of any Republican candidate.

“Can you believe it?” he said.

Some disillusioned voters can. At Scooter’s Coffee House — a few miles from the school — we spoke to Jeff Hilborn, a Bernie Sanders supporter who nonetheless planned to attend Trump’s rally for the entertainment value.

“It’s funny that the first politician I’m going to see isn’t even a politician,” he said.

Photo by Amanda Suarez

Hilborn doesn’t plan to caucus on Monday night because he will be busy transferring to a new job. The caucuses begins at 7 p.m. local time and generally involve a greater commitment from voters than traditional primaries. Voters must communally meet and voice support for candidates in a public setting, rather than picking their name behind a closed ballot box. It’s a commitment that the Trump campaign is acutely aware its supporters, many of them first-time caucusgoers per the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, may not follow through on.

“You get one chance tomorrow to make a difference, don’t waste it on a wimp!” said Iowa State Co-Chair Tana Goertz, a former contestant on Trump’s reality television show, “The Apprentice.”

Trump used his own unique form of motivation.

“In Iowa, you have a lousy record: 16 years that you haven’t picked a winner,” he said. “Please pick a winner this time.”

Photo Manager Carson Kahoe contributed reporting.

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