Port: Burgum camp quiet about a possible presidential campaign for now

Sometimes a non-answer is still an answer.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum throws a stone after signing a bill on Thursday, March 23, 2023, to designate curling as the state's official sport.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include additional comments from Burgum's political advisor Dawson Schefter.

Minot, N.D. — Late Friday, I reported that Gov. Doug Burgum was in Iowa attending a "meet and greet" event , and that a source there had received a call from a pollster trying to measure support for a candidate with a background that sounds identical to Burgum's.

When a governor starts giving speeches in Iowa, and polling there, it's fair to speculate they might be considering a run for the White House. And it seems like Burgum's trip wasn't just about a Friday-night event at a bakery in Nevada, Iowa. Per social media posts, he was still in Iowa on Saturday morning, attending at least one additional event in Ankeny, which is on the outskirts Des Moines, and about 30 miles from Nevada.

Per the picture, Burgum had his wife, Kathryn, with him.

I spent the bulk of this weekend trying to get confirmation of Burgum's intentions, including calling and texting Burgum himself, and I don't have much to add to the story at this point.


But I do have something.

Sunday evening, Dawson Schefter, manager of Burgum's re-election campaign in 2024 and currently his senior political advisor, replied to a request for an interview.

"Really appreciate the invitation! We're focused on finishing out the last stretch of session right now. Once that wraps up, then we'd be glad to give you the first interview," he told me in a text message.

I replied asking if he could confirm whether his boss has a national campaign in his future or if he could at least tell me the purpose of his Iowa trip, Schefter said this: "The governor has been to Iowa a couple of times in the past few years. He was excited to return this weekend and had a lot of great conversations. Right now, he’s focused on the remaining days of the legislative session and ensuring the best outcomes for North Dakotans. Once session wraps up Doug and his family will focus on what’s next."

Which doesn't tell us much.

Or does it?

Sometimes the absence of information is also data. When a governor makes a quiet trip to Iowa to attend some political events at the dawn of a presidential election cycle, and his campaign people don't respond to questions about his national aspirations, that's still kind of an answer, isn't it?

How would a Burgum campaign for the White House be received? There was a lot of derision when I first broke this story on Friday. Case in point, here's National Review columnist Dan McLaughlin pointing out that, outside of North Dakota, there aren't a lot of people who know who Burgum is:


"Money and ego makes people do crazy things," is how a well-connected political friend dismissed it via text this weekend.

But I think these dismissals are unfair. Nationally, the Republican party is in turmoil. Based on public opinion polling, Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the GOP, but brings so much baggage to the race it's hard to know how much staying power he'll have. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the other favorite, though there is growing doubt that he'll have what it takes to take down Trump (this column from my friend Matt Lewis is a good read on that topic).

12.14.18 Trump meets with newly-elected governors
President Donald Trump meets with newly-elected governors at the White House in Washington, Dec. 13, 2018. From left: Ron DeSantis of Florida, Trump and Mike DeWine of Ohio.
(Doug Mills/The New York Times/Copyright 2018)

The party is so divided, who knows what could emerge from the chaos. Our instinct is to dismiss Burgum's campaign because he's a relative non-entity on the national stage, and hails from a state that is well off the beaten path of the national news media. But is there a turn of events that could make these things an asset?

If Republicans are thirsty for a new, outsider perspective, maybe Burgum can deliver?

Is anywhere in the country more outside the battlefield of national politics than North Dakota?

Meanwhile, in Bismarck, our state Legislature continues its work, which means Burgum will be back at the capitol, where he's not going to be able to duck questions for long.

By the end of this coming week, we should hopefully know more about Burgum's intentions. In the meantime, there are a lot of things to think about. As I mentioned previously, these aspirations have significant implications for the bills lawmakers are sending him for signature. It's clear that the national Republican base has an almost unquenchable thirst for a culture war, and the Legislature has been working on a large number of bills in that vein this session, not least is one restricting pronoun use in state government and public schools .

How will Burgum's national aspirations impact his decisions on this bill?


And what do those aspirations portend for North Dakota politics? Burgum is up for re-election in 2024. Will he run, or will he be busy on the national campaign trail?

If he doesn't run, which Republicans might seek to fill that vacancy?

Burgum just appointed a new lieutenant governor, choosing Fargo-based businesswoman Tammy Miller, who has showed political ambition in the past, considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2018 against then-incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp . It's hard for me to believe that Miller took the lieutenant governor job without seeing it as rung on a ladder leading to higher office.

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Congressman Kelly Armstrong, who had nice things to say about Burgum running a national campaign - "I watched him go to coffee shops during his 2016 campaign and talk to people who were not his supporters when they walked in the room and they left that room supporters. That's how he got elected," he told me on Friday - would also have to be in the mix for governor. Though a strong rebuttal to that theory would have its roots in Armstrong's rapid rise in the U.S. House. Armstrong would have been one of the Republican appointees to the January 6 Commission if Democrats hadn't rejected them. He does have a seat on the new and high-profile Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, as well as seats on the Oversight and Judiciary committees.

There's little question in my mind that Armstrong would like to be governor one day, but he's still very young in political years - just 46 - and he's just been elected to the third term of what is shaping up to be a consequential tenure in the House.

The 2024 cycle may not be when he makes his move.

Would Sen. Kevin Cramer want to be governor? Maybe, though he, too, is a man on the rise in Congress.

We could play this game with about every high-profile Republican in the state.


There's another variable here, too: Sometimes people who run for president aren't really trying to get elected to the White House. Sometimes they have other goals, like maybe leveraging a national campaign into a cabinet appointment.

"Secretary of the Interior Doug Burgum" or "Secretary of Agriculture Doug Burgum" are other ways Burgum could leave a vacancy here in North Dakota.

Because a national campaign just wasn't on my radar, I've long predicted that Burgum would run for a third term as governor in 2024. And, absent this recent turn of events, that would still be my prediction.

But now? Who knows. Suddenly, there are a lot of moving parts.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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