Who Is Doug Burgum, The North Dakota Governor Running For President?


Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum just announced he is running for president. And if your first reaction to that is, “Wait … who?,” then you’re not alone. So to learn more about him, I spoke to FiveThirtyEight senior elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich.

OK, Nathaniel, who is Doug Burgum?

Nathaniel Rakich: Well, he’s been the governor of North Dakota since 2016, but how he got there is actually pretty interesting — and sheds light on why he thinks he can be president. He grew up in a small town in North Dakota and mortgaged a piece of farmland he inherited from his dad in order to invest in a company called Great Plains Software. He eventually became its CEO and sold it to Microsoft for $1.1 billion.

But when he announced he was running for governor in 2016, most people still didn’t know who he was. But he wound up defeating the sitting attorney general 59 percent to 39 percent in the Republican primary. So he has experience winning primaries he wasn’t supposed to win.

Thomson-DeVeaux: And what kind of governor has he been? Is he really Trumpy, or more moderate?

Rakich: He’s kind of hard to put in a box. I wouldn’t say he’s very Trumpy, even though he and Trump have generally had a good relationship. He’s more interested in things like the economy and especially energy policy than in being kind of a hardcore culture warrior — for example, in 2021, he vetoed a ban prohibiting transgender athletes from playing on sports teams of the gender they identify with, although he did signed a very similar bill this year when it became clear that the legislature had the votes to override his veto. He’s also signed one of the strictest abortion bans in the country and a ban on teaching critical race theory. So he’s still pretty conservative.

Thomson-DeVeaux: OK so a bit of a reality check. Right now, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are pulling something like three-quarters of the Republican primary vote nationally. What makes Burgum think he can actually win the nomination?

Rakich: Yeah well, you know what they say: that every governor and senator looks in the mirror and sees a future president. But I think the one thing that Burgum has going for him that, say, Asa Hutchinson doesn’t is money. His net worth is more than $1 billion, and he’s reportedly willing to self-fund his campaign. Remember for example when Michael Bloomberg spent $1 billion on his 2020 campaign and he had that little surge in the polls? Of course, Burgum probably won’t spend that much, and Bloomberg didn’t win the Democratic nomination. But it’s not crazy to think that Burgum could spend his way to third place or something.

And I think guys like Burgum look at Ron DeSantis, who has not gotten a lot of favorable news coverage lately with his awkward campaign interactions and his glitchy campaign launch, and think, “I could beat this guy.” So I think Burgum’s best-case scenario is he spends his way to 10 percent in the polls or something and becomes a viable third option, and then if DeSantis keeps struggling, maybe his supporters who don’t like Trump flock to Burgum.

But then, of course, Burgum has to find a way to take down Trump. And given how popular Trump is in the party, that’s just going to be really hard.

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