Doug Burgum, the Republican governor of North Dakota, has announced his candidacy for the party’s presidential nomination next year.
Burgum made the announcement in the the Wall Street Journal newspaper. A campaign event is scheduled for later on Wednesday in the city of Fargo.
“We need a change in the White House. We need a new leader for a changing economy. That’s why I’m announcing my run for president,” he said in a commentary on the Journal’s website.
The 66-year-old was a software entrepreneur, Microsoft executive and venture capitalist before becoming governor in 2016. He will be a rank outsider in a race dominated by two candidates: former US president Donald Trump and rightwing Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
Trump enjoys commanding polling leads, having parlayed unparalleled legal jeopardy, including possible indictments over his election subversion and incitement of the January 6 attack on Congress, into a surge of support.
DeSantis, a hardline self-styled culture warrior, is a distant second but still well clear of a raft of other candidates including former vice-president Mike Pence, the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, the South Carolina senator Tim Scott, the former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson and Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur.
Burgum has rarely made national headlines but he did so in May 2020, pleading emotionally for North Dakotans to “try to dial up your empathy and your understanding” over the need to wear masks in public during the Covid pandemic.
“We’re all in this together and there’s only one battle we’re fighting,” Burgum said. “And that’s the battle of the virus.”
In that appearance in Bismarck, the state capital, Burgum also said he “would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, that they’re creating a divide. Either it’s ideological or political or something around mask versus no mask.
“This is, I would say, a senseless dividing line … If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support.”
In Trump’s culture war-stoked Republican party, however, masks and other public health measures against Covid quickly became a key political issue.
Only recently, Trump and DeSantis swapped campaign-trail barbs about what each said or did not say about Anthony Fauci, then Trump’s chief Covid adviser, in the early stages of the pandemic.
Should Burgum pull off a political miracle and win the Republican nomination, another culture war issue would be likely to hurt his chances with the US public.
In April, Burgum signed a law banning abortion at six weeks of gestation, when many women do not know they are pregnant, with few exceptions.
Burgum said the bill “reaffirms North Dakota as a pro-life state”.
In the year since the US supreme court removed the right to abortion, other Republican governors have signed strict abortion bans. DeSantis is among them, having signed a six-week ban in Florida.
US public opinion is consistently in favor of abortion rights.
Burgum has also signed numerous laws curtailing the rights of transgender North Dakotans and a law banning the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.
Though Burgum’s policies include the goal of making North Dakota carbon neutral by 2030, a rare environmental commitment from a Republican governor, he has also been a backer of fossil fuel projects including the Dakota Access pipeline, which has fueled widespread protests.