Gov. Doug Burgum, the Republican governor of North Dakota who rose from a chimney sweep to become one of the richest men in the state, announced a campaign for president on Wednesday, entering an increasingly crowded race in which he faces exceedingly long odds.
“We need a new leader for a changing economy,” Mr. Burgum wrote in an opinion essay in The Wall Street Journal that focused heavily on his business acumen. He plans to appear at an event around midday in Fargo, N.D.
The size of the field signals that former President Donald J. Trump, the Republican front-runner, has not scared off many challengers. But he has also yet to fully consolidate support behind his candidacy, and numerous rivals apparently see a path to the nomination, no matter how narrow it might be.
As the leader of his deep-red state, Mr. Burgum has overseen a period of significant economic expansion and promoted staunchly conservative policies.
This year, Mr. Burgum signed into law a near-total ban on abortion and created significant restrictions on gender transition care, including banning any requirements that teachers or school administrators use a student’s preferred pronouns.
He is the second sitting governor to enter the race, after Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has staked out aggressively conservative social policy positions and attracted the national spotlight for dust-ups with major corporations like Disney.
Yet Mr. Burgum’s aides say he is planning a campaign less focused on social issues and more on his business background and fiscal stewardship of the state, which included cuts to both local property taxes and state income taxes. He is set to emphasize the economy, energy and national security in his early campaigning, viewing the current debate as too focused on social issues and not on voters’ biggest concerns.
In a recent interview with the editorial board of The Fargo Forum, a local news outlet, Mr. Burgum said he believed that 60 percent of American voters had been neglected as the fringes dominated political debate.
“All the engagement right now is occurring on the edge,” he said. “There’s definitely a yearning for some alternatives right now.”
Though his national media appearances have been scarce, Mr. Burgum has been able to break through during debates over energy policy, offering a window into how he might frame his proposals in contrast to those of Republican rivals and of President Biden. In March, he told Fox News that the Biden administration’s economic plan was “disconnected from economics, it’s disconnected from physics and it’s disconnected from common sense.” He argued that Japan and other Asian countries were ripe markets for American energy exports.
On Monday, his campaign sought to address his scant national name recognition with a glossy biography video in which the governor tells his life story, set to sweeping vistas of North Dakota bluffs and energy fields.
His campaign’s confidence that he can rise from a relative unknown to legitimate candidate derives from his own political career in North Dakota. When Mr. Burgum announced his bid for governor in 2016, he was an outsider with little name recognition outside Fargo, and his main opponent, Wayne Stenehjem, the state attorney general, received the North Dakota Republican Party’s endorsement.
But with ample resources and a campaign that ran to the right — Mr. Burgum endorsed Donald J. Trump for president in May 2016 — he cruised to a 20-percentage-point victory that The Bismarck Tribune proclaimed “upended the North Dakota Republican Party establishment.” He has not been seriously challenged in North Dakota since.
“There’s a value to being underestimated all the time,” Mr. Burgum told The Fargo Forum. “That’s a competitive advantage.”
As the only candidate not from the East Coast and with an upbringing deeply rooted in the rural Midwest, Mr. Burgum is likely to focus most of his efforts in Iowa, a state with an extensive agricultural community. Mr. Burgum grew up in Arthur, N.D., a town of barely 300 where his family owned the only grain elevator.
While attending North Dakota State University as an undergraduate, Mr. Burgum began a chimney sweeping service in Fargo out of a friend’s pickup truck. His newfound business attracted the attention of local newspapers, who ran photos of a soot-laden Mr. Burgum clad in a tuxedo hopping from roof to roof, picking up roughly $40 per chimney.
Mr. Burgum attached those newspaper clips to his applications for business school, and he soon enrolled in Stanford Business School. After earning his M.B.A. at Stanford, Mr. Burgum joined Great Plains Software, a Fargo company that specialized in accounting software, and quickly rose to chief executive.
Far from the more fertile tech hubs of Silicon Valley, Mr. Burgum built Great Plains Software into a major industry player, eventually selling to Microsoft for $1.1 billion. He would then serve as a senior vice president at Microsoft until 2007.
Mr. Burgum’s worth stretches into nine figures, certainly enough to help finance a nascent presidential run, and his aides expect his business network to help pull in major donors as well. But as of the start of his campaign, no super PAC or outside group has emerged supporting Mr. Burgum’s candidacy.
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