Who is Doug Burgum? 5 takeaways on the North Dakota governor running for the White House in 2024 (2024)

Phillip M. BaileyUSA TODAY

Don't feel bad if you don't know who Gov. Doug Burgum is or that he's among the roughly dozen candidates jockeying for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

A June poll by Quinnipiac University showed 90% of Americans haven't heard of North Dakota's billionaire governor.

In a primary dominated by former President Donald Trump, he concedes he is one of the least-known contenders, which means coming up with new ways to get attention.

One strategy that generated attention and elevated Burgum to qualifying for the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee Aug. 23 was offering a $20 gift card to people who donated $1 to his presidential campaign, which critics blasted as buying support. Some used their gift card money to donate to President Joe Biden's reelection campaign.

"I love the creativity that people have," Burgum told USA TODAY. "I know a lot of people that got their whole family to give a dollar and we got five donors and then they used it to help pay down the food bill or pay for the next tank of gas."

But there's plenty that is serious about Burgum, who signed one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country this year and whose views on energy draw praise from conservative thinkers.

He sat down with USA TODAY reporters and editors on Tuesday to introduce himself to voters and talk about the nation’s biggest challenges and how he wants to solve them.

Burgum is a software entrepreneur, largely self-funded

Burgum, 66, was born in Arthur, North Dakota, northwest of Fargo. He attended Stanford University, where he earned a master’s degree in business administration.

In the 1980s, he and his relatives − including his grandparents, who owned an agriculture business − bought Great Plains Software, a software company that eventually was bought by Microsoft for $1.1 billion in 1997.

Most of Burgum's fundraising comes from his own pocket with a $10.2 million personal loan to the campaign.

He has been a major underdog before

When Burgum first entered politics as a gubernatorial contender in 2016, he was a long shot, trailing by 49% in the GOP primary against a popular attorney general.

He won that election by 20%, largely running as an outsider in the year that Trump first captured the Republican nomination for president.

Trump's staying power

Most public polls put Burgum in the basem*nt of the Republican presidential primary and often barely registering with 1% to 2% of voters.

Like every other GOP hopeful, he has to contend with a news cycle dominated daily by Trump, who has already been indicted twice on the campaign trail.

Asked about the former president's staying power, the North Dakota Republican said that in the seven weeks he has been in the race, he has already made the Aug. 23 debate stage and that polls taken far from Election Day haven't been good forecasts for who wins.

"There's lots of twists and turns," Burgum said. "But for us right now, our focus is really on trying to introduce ourselves to the American public because we're the least known of any of the candidates who will be on stage. But we think we've got some of the best qualifications to actually lead the country."

Climate change and buying energy from friends

If there's a subject Burgum loves to talk about, it's energy and its role in America's domestic and foreign policy.

"The potential for us to have an amazing future as a country has never been greater, and yet we're trapped in this politically and talking about internal division and really talking about the past," he said.

Burgum believes human activity has caused climate change, and as governor he made it a goal to get the Roughrider State carbon-neutral by 2030. But he rejects the Democratic worldview of using regulation to curtail fossil fuel use and instead emphasizes innovative technology to capture carbon emissions.

The energy debate is also a national security issue, Burgum said.

"It's one sentence, which is we need to sell energy to our friends and allies and stop buying it from our adversaries."

Winning the cold war against China

Burgum's energy views dovetail with a foreign policy perspective that centers on China being America's chief rival in the 21st century.

The first campaign ad Burgum launched was all about China's communist leadership, and he has been stark in saying that the U.S. is engaged in a cold war with Beijing that must be won economically.

But unlike the Cold War with the Soviet Union, he said, this conflict will require dialogue with China but a firm stance on U.S. values.

"There's a lot more nuance required here, because it is a fact that you've got a dictatorship with a bad track record on human rights and a bad track record against democracy, but our two economies are very much intertwined."

GOP debate 'all upside' for non-Trump contenders, Burgum says

Qualifying for the Aug. 23 debate is a big step for the Burgum campaign, mainly because it will put the North Dakota governor on national TV.

Burgum said that he would support whoever wins the GOP nomination, including Trump, but that he is running to win.

"I think competition is good for the Republican Party, and it's great for this country," he said. "Ninety-three percent of Americans want something different than a Biden-Trump matchup, and if that's what they really want, then people should pay attention."

What remains unclear is if Trump, the unquestionable front-runner in the primary, will even attend the debate and how that will influence other candidates' approaches. But Burgum said he isn't joining the "media obsession" of candidates commenting on one another's campaigns.

"If you got 100% name recognition and you've been participating, it's all downside," he said. "If you've got low name recognition, you know that you've got things that matter to all Americans, it's all upside for us."

No national abortion ban

Like other governors, Burgum is on the front lines of the country reshuffling its reproductive rights laws in the wake of the Supreme Court knocking down Roe v. Wade last year.

North Dakota passed one of the nation's most strict abortion bans; it blocks the procedure at all stages of pregnancy at up to six weeks with the exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies. But that comes amid other bans failing in conservative-leaning states either through the legislative or referendum processes.

The question being posed to many White House hopefuls on the GOP side is whether they support Congress establishing a federal ban, which many social conservatives have been demanding in recent months.

Burgum told USA TODAY he would not support such a move, however.

"It absolutely belongs to the states," he said. "What would fly in New York would never fly in North Dakota. Those are two very different things."

Who is Doug Burgum? 5 takeaways on the North Dakota governor running for the White House in 2024 (2024)
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