‘The guy’s got balls’: Popular but little-known GOP governor expected to run for president

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Details of the Cabinet Room of the White House are seen on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)
Details of the Cabinet Room of the White House are seen on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

By Mary Lou Masters
Daily Caller News Foundation

  • North Dakota’s two-term Republican Gov. Doug Burgum is expected to announce a run for president in 2024 on Wednesday.
  • Burgum is a longtime private-sector businessman who founded multiple businesses before overwhelmingly winning the governorship twice.
  • “Doug Burgum does not get into anything he thinks he can’t win,” Jim Poolman, former state legislator, vice chairman of the state’s GOP and state insurance commissioner, told the DCNF. “I think he genuinely believes he can win, and I genuinely believe he can win.”

North Dakota’s governor is among the most popular in the nation, but few outside the state have heard his name. As he prepares to make an expected entrance into the Republican primary for president this week, some of Gov. Doug Burgum’s longtime observers and associates tell the Daily Caller News Foundation that the political outsider is in it to win it, and won’t be deterred by the long odds against him.

Burgum, who has already been filming TV advertisements, will make a “major announcement” on Wednesday in Fargo, North Dakota, where he is expected to launch his presidential campaign, the DCNF previously confirmed. The wealthy private-sector businessman is popular across North Dakota, has a good relationship with the legislature and is very articulate, several political operatives in the state told the DCNF.

“He’s a risk taker,” Lloyd Omdahl, former lieutenant governor and political science professor at the University of North Dakota, told the DCNF. “He’s not intimidated by new situations.”

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Burgum had no previous political experience when he ran for governor in 2016, and he didn’t have the endorsement of the Republican convention delegates for the GOP gubernatorial primaries — then-Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem did. Stenehjem served in both chambers of the state legislature and was North Dakota’s top attorney for over 20 years, but despite his political experience in the state, Burgum beat Stenehjem by roughly 20 points in the primary.

He handily won the governor’s mansion in 2016, where he beat his Democratic opposition 76.52% to 19.39%, and overwhelmingly secured reelection in 2020 by roughly 40 points. Burgum has maintained high approval ratings throughout his governorship and in 2022, he was ranked fourth-most popular governor in America with a 66% approval rating.

Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D. (Official portrait)
Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D. (Official portrait)

Jim Poolman, former state legislator and vice chairman of the state’s GOP, told the DCNF that Burgum spent his own money, campaigned heavily and worked hard in 2016, and believes he’ll have the same “commitment” in 2024.

“Doug Burgum does not get into anything he thinks he can’t win,” said Poolman, who believes Burgum will be the “adult in the room” in the GOP primaries. “I think he genuinely believes he can win, and I genuinely believe he can win.”

The governor just wrapped up a successful legislative session where he signed a massive tax relief package that provided $515 million in savings and legislation that nearly bans abortion outright, allowing for narrow exceptions up until the sixth week of gestation. He signed legislation banning gender surgeries on minors, two bills barring biological males from competing in women’s sports and legislation that prohibits teachers from referring to students by pronouns that don’t correspond with their sex.

“I would say we have a very, very good relationship,” Senate Majority Leader David Hogue told the DCNF. “He’s very good about reaching out and having a continuous dialogue with the legislature, with both the majority and minority. He certainly is very articulate in presenting his policy preferences, and we’re able to understand those.”

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Burgum has notably vetoed several measures that dealt with social issues, some of which he later signed similar versions of. He vetoed a school choice bill in late April that would have provided $10 million worth of private school vouchers, and vetoed earlier versions of the preferred pronoun bill in late March and the transgender sports legislation in 2021, both of which he ended up signing this session.

“The guy’s got balls,” said Poolman. “He’s not afraid to take on people in his own party that just wanted to obstruct, or just say no, and not govern. And he did that, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, but he’s certainly not afraid.”

The governor inherited his family’s farm and mortgaged it in the 1980s to invest in his technology firm Great Plains Software, which he later sold to Microsoft in 2001 for $1.1 billion, where he worked until 2007 as the senior vice president to help guide the corporation into the growing software industry, according to Forbes.

He also founded real estate development company the Kilbourne Group in 2006 and co-founded Arthur Ventures in 2008, which invested in software companies. Burgum also has ties with the agriculture economy in North Dakota by serving as a member of his grandparents’ agribusiness company and through a “ranching partnership” in the western part of the state.

The governor is more concerned with prominent issues in North Dakota, like the economy and energy, as opposed to the social policies conservatives are nationally moving toward, said Poolman. Mark Jendrysik, political science professor at the University of North Dakota, told the DCNF Burgum “certainly isn’t a fire breathing culture warrior,” nodding to his vetoes.

“He may not have championed those culture warrior issues, but he certainly signed most of them,” Poolman argued. “I think that his rear end is covered on some of that stuff. They won’t be able to paint him into a corner as a moderate or a squish on any of those things.”

The governor has close ties with the energy sector in North Dakota, and though he is a proponent of the fossil fuel industry, he signed legislation creating a sustainable energy fund, promoting carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions. Burgum holds a strong belief that the government should solve problems through “innovation” rather than “regulation,” which is exemplified through his record on sustainable energy, rather than imposing restrictions on the oil and gas industry, said Hogue. Poolman believes people are “excited” that he will likely focus on energy policy when running for president, and highlight permitting reform, oil refining, renewables and carbon capture.

Omdahl said Burgum is likely running for president to elevate his energy policy platform, and believes he would be in a good position to secure a cabinet spot as Secretary of Energy. Jendrysik, who said Burgum’s expected run came “out of nowhere,” said the governor “might be onto something” if that is his goal.

The governor’s expected presidential campaign will be focused on “the economy, energy policy and national security,” and Burgum believes some of these social issues should be decided on a state-by-state basis, he told the DCNF in an interview.

“The question is whether there’s any sort of market for that in the current Republican primary,” Jendrysik said when asked about the lane Burgum will likely run in. “I don’t personally think that there is — I don’t think there’s a market for that.”

Burgum’s expected run in the GOP primaries won’t be easy, as the governor will face Republican heavyweights like former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who are currently leading the increasingly growing field with 53.2% and 22.4% support, respectively, according to the Real Clear Politics average.

This story originally was published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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