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North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum likely to run for president

Republican Governors
Posted at 8:53 AM, May 18, 2023

As potential Republican contenders Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott move closer to announcing their entries into the GOP presidential fray, another potential candidate is also likely to be throwing his hat into the ring.

CBS News has learned that North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is nearing a decision to launch a dark-horse bid for the White House, and has begun hiring political consultants who have advised previous Republican presidential campaigns, according to GOP sources familiar with the planning.

Burgum is expected to make a decision within the next couple weeks, the sources say.

Though there had been whispers in Republican circles in recent weeks over a possible Burgum candidacy after several GOP consultants had been approached by representatives for the North Dakota governor, his likely decision to move forward with a campaign came after the North Dakota legislative session ended earlier this month.

In a meeting with the editorial board of a North Dakota newspaper, the Republican governor, who easily won reelection in 2020, acknowledged that a presidential run has been on his mind.

"That'll be next, to think about 2024," Burgum said earlier this week to The Forum.

"There's a value to being underestimated all the time," Burgum said, referencing the steep uphill climb he faced in his first gubernatorial race, according to the newspaper. "That's a competitive advantage."

Burgum, a former software company CEO, first ran for governor in 2016 as a political neophyte with no party endorsements and only 10% support in local polls. Though he faced a tough primary opponent in Wayne Stenehjem, the North Dakota attorney general, at the time, who had been backed by the Republican establishment, Burgum ended up winning by 20 points, in part because of his outsider status in an election cycle that saw Donald Trump win the presidency, and his ability to self-fund his gubernatorial campaign—elements that could also help him with a White House run.

Burgum grew his small business, Great Plains Software, into a $1 billion software company that was eventually acquired by Microsoft. According to his advisors, the North Dakotan stayed on as senior vice president after the corporation retained his company's workers in North Dakota. As was true of his gubernatorial campaigns, Burgum would rely on his extensive personal wealth and financial network in a presidential campaign, according to Republican sources. Financially, he'd sit at the top of the emerging Republican field with former President Trump and former biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy as the wealthiest Republican contenders.

Burgum has also brandished his conservative record as governor of North Dakota, hewing to the model of another potential presidential candidate, Florida's DeSantis.

Last month, Burgum signed into law one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country, an abortion ban that allows limited exceptions up to six weeks' gestation, and only for medical emergencies at any other point in the pregnancy. After signing the bill, he said the legislation "reaffirms North Dakota as a pro-life state."

Like DeSantis, Burgum has also signed legislation to restrict transgender rights, including a transgender athlete ban, and a measure that would make it a crime to give gender-affirming care to minors.

"Doug Burgum initially ran on a platform in support of anti-discrimination laws, but the far-right has taken the wheel within the National Republican Party. It's not surprising that he turned his back on LGBTQ+ North Dakotans now that he's desperately trying to make a national name for himself," North Dakota Democratic Party Chair Patrick Hart said after the bill was signed into law.

His advisors, however, say he would center his likely campaign on energy and the economy. Burgum, who was chairman of the bipartisan Western Governors Association, could also appeal to fiscal hawks. As governor, he balanced the state budget without raising taxes in North Dakota and cut state spending by $1.7 billion. He also enacted the largest tax cut in North Dakota history.

Despite his conservative record as governor, Burgum would begin a presidential bid likely at the back of the GOP pack. In most recent polls, Trump leads DeSantis, his closest rival, by wide double-digit margins, while the rest of the field has only been netting single digits in national surveys of Republican voters. And Burgum's name is not one that immediately registers with many Republicans.

In his meeting with The Forum editorial board, Burgum said he believes 60% of American voters are an exhausted "silent majority" who have been offered only options on the fringes of the political spectrum.

"All the engagement right now is occurring on the edge," he said. "There's definitely a yearning for some alternatives right now."