His presidential bid over, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum says he won’t seek a third term as governor

Jan 22, 2024, 8:27 AM

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum announced Monday that he will not seek a third term as governor, over a month after he ended his bid for the GOP presidential nomination.

His recent endorsement of former President Donald Trump, and Trump’s praise of the little-known governor, have fueled speculation about Burgum serving in a possible second Trump administration. The governor told reporters his endorsement of Trump and a potential role for him are unrelated to his decision not to run. He said he’s planning “a very active last year in office” and “to run through the tape hard.”

His decision creates an open race for the state government’s top job in the sparsely populated, Republican-dominant state. Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since Heidi Heitkamp’s U.S. Senate victory in 2012.

Burgum, 67, is a wealthy software entrepreneur who won an upset victory in 2016 over the state’s popular attorney general in the Republican gubernatorial primary election. He campaigned on a message of “reinventing” state government amid a $1 billion state revenue shortfall. He went on to win his first term and reelection in 2020 by overwhelming margins. His term ends in December.

He told reporters that part of his decision not to run is because of family, and he became emotional discussing his three adult children. Leaving office, he said the private sector has “gigantic opportunities,” and he isn’t ruling out a run for future office.

“I think impact is going to be what drives the decisions I make in the future. Wherever that path may be, it’s going to be where I can have the biggest impact,” Burgum said in a Capitol press conference. He called a vice presidential or Cabinet role “hypothetical at this point in time.”

Burgum’s next steps might very well be a return to the private sector, “at least until something might unfold in the public service standpoint,” said former Gov. Ed Schafer, a Republican who served from 1992-2000. A position in a potential Trump administration isn’t assured, he added.

“It’s possible” Burgum might seek a U.S. Senate seat, though he “doesn’t seem the Senate type only because he’s an operations guy,” Schafer said. But a Senate seat is an opportunity to affect national public policy, one of the reasons Burgum ran for president, said Schafer, who thinks it extremely unlikely Burgum would challenge Sen. Kevin Cramer for his seat on the ballot this year.

“Already everybody’s scrambling” after Burgum’s announcement, with the path clear for several potential or rumored Republican gubernatorial candidates, Schafer said. “It changes the chessboard” if some incumbents shift their election plans; for instance, if U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong were to run for governor, the state’s sole House seat would open up, Schafer said.

North Dakota’s Republican Party will endorse a gubernatorial ticket at its convention in April in Fargo. But like what Burgum notoriously did in 2016, candidates are free to run in the June primary election to clinch the party nomination for November.

Burgum entered office at the height of the Dakota Access oil pipeline protests. He led the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic with messages of staying “North Dakota smart” and urging “personal responsibility” as COVID-19 cases soared. He’s also had to deal with terrible droughts, crippling winter storms and important questions of how to spend the state’s federal coronavirus aid and how to use the state’s ballooning oil tax savings.

As governor, Burgum championed a Theodore Roosevelt presidential library in the state’s colorful Badlands where the 26th president hunted and ranched in the 1880s. He and his wife Kathryn, a recovering alcoholic, prioritized recovery from addiction as a top issue in his administration.

He’s pushed income tax cuts with mixed results. He signed a sheaf of bills last year that opponents decried as harmful to transgender people, including a ban on gender-affirming care for children and restrictions on school athletic participation.

His relationship with lawmakers has been rocky. In 2020 and 2022, Burgum targeted the seats of fellow Republicans with millions of his own money, including the top House budget writer.

Burgum supported a term limits ballot initiative in 2022. The governor cannot be elected more than twice, and state lawmakers are limited to eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate. The term limits are not retroactive and do not prevent Burgum from running for a third or fourth term.

Burgum poured over $12 million of his own money into his presidential campaign, which he ended in December after six months. He drew attention for giving $20 gift cards to donors in order to meet donation requirements for the debate stage, and criticized debate qualification criteria as arbitrary.

Before becoming governor, Burgum was best known as a software executive. He led Great Plains Software through its acquisition by Microsoft in 2001 for over $1 billion. He was a Microsoft executive until 2007 and has led other companies in real estate development and venture capital.

Burgum is scheduled to give his State of the State address Tuesday. North Dakota’s Legislature is not in session this year, but Burgum has made the speech a yearly tradition in a different town each time, whereas his predecessors typically gave it only at the start of the biennial legislative session in Bismarck.

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His presidential bid over, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum says he won’t seek a third term as governor