North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on why he's running for president

Burgum joined the GOP presidential primary race earlier this year.

October 17, 2023, 12:52 PM

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, jumped into the 2024 presidential race earlier this summer, pitching himself to voters as a candidate ready to bring small town values to the big stage.

"We need a leader who's clearly focused on three things: economy, energy and national security," Burgum, 67, said to cheers at an event in Fargo, North Dakota.

Burgum founded software company Great Plains Software in the 1980s. The company eventually went public and was acquired by Microsoft in 2001 for more than $1 billion.

Burgum recently made headlines after tearing his Achilles tendon during a pickup basketball game the night before the GOP primary debate in Milwaukee. Burgum took part in the debate despite the injury.

Burgum spoke to ABC News’ Linsey Davis about his life and career and opened up about the moment he decided to run for president.

PHOTO: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican candidate for president, is seen in an interview.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican candidate for president, is seen in an interview.
ABC News

LINSEY DAVIS: In a few words, who is Doug Burgum?

GOV. DOUG BURGUM: Doug Burgum is a kid that grew up in a small town -- Arthur, North Dakota, 300 people. And what a fabulous place to grow up. The streets weren't even paved. I mean, there was no mail delivery. Everybody, like I said, neighbors helping neighbors.

[I] had the gift of two amazing parents. My dad was a World War II Navy vet, and [I] learned from him courage and sacrifice, but he passed away when I was a freshman in high school. My mom went back to work to help pay the mortgage and make ends meet, and that was a great lesson from her, because she had wisdom and perseverance and grace. Incredible.

I grew up playing basketball in Arthur [with] my brother, my cousin. But then after undergrad, grad school, working in Chicago, saw my first computer and I said, “Wow, that’s going to change the world.” And literally bet the farm to become the seed capital for a startup called Great Plains Software.

We went public, had this fantastic run as a public company, got acquired by Microsoft and then I joined that team and helped build Microsoft to get it going on the track that it is today.

DAVIS: Clearly, your roots go deep here in North Dakota. Rumor has it that your great-grandmother even tangled with Lt. Col. George Custer and won? Any truth to that?

BURGUM: Yes, it’s absolutely -- it's written in North Dakota history. She was the postmistress at the Fort Lincoln Army post where Custer was stationed, and he tried to circumvent her responsibility. Taking the U.S. mailbags, he cut ‘em open. And she went to battle with him over that and she won. It’s also written that she was the first woman in the country to vote as a presidential elector in one of the early conventions, back in the 1890s.

DAVIS: You mentioned also you were an avid basketball player in high school, still playing basketball now. Any regrets about that pickup game the night before the first debate?

BURGUM: I have none, none at all. Sport has been so good to me. The amount of basketball I've played over my lifetime, ran track, played football, played organized adult softball for 30-plus years. In all of the things -- you know, climbed mountains, skied stuff that should have killed me -- I've never had an ankle or knee injury. So I'm way past my mileage warranty. Like, I'm just, I'm grateful for the gift I've had to be injury free for this long, and I'm fully confident I'll be fully recovered and back at it. It's not going to stop me.

DAVIS: How's the Achilles doing now?

BURGUM: Well, today it's doing great and much better. And I don't know if you heard, I'm in the record books, because it was voted the best presidential debate ever by someone standing on one leg. I'm happy to have that one, but hopefully don't have to do that again.

DAVIS: Were you in a lot of pain while you were up there?

BURGUM: Absolutely, and talk to anybody who's blown their Achilles and they'll confirm that.

DAVIS: What do you think is the fairest criticism about you?

BURGUM: That I’m not as polished as some of the other politicians.

DAVIS: What do you say to critics who say that it was legally dubious, I believe was the term, for you to give the $20 gift cards in order to get a $1 donation?

BURGUM: Well, first of all, that's a completely inappropriate and false statement, because there's nothing at all inappropriate about doing a promotion. You've got to get someone a reason to come and look, you know, come to your website and look. We've got, you know, thousands of people who gave a dollar to get the $20 gift card who've come back and now donated, because they got engaged with us. It was a smart way to get the campaign off the ground.

DAVIS: As governor, you had just this past year, you signed eight anti-trans bills into law. North Dakota also has some of the strictest abortion laws of any of the states. How would you work across the aisle with people who may totally differ from your point of view on those and other issues?

BURGUM: Well, I think this goes back to the 10th Amendment and take the whole issue of Dobbs [v. Jackson Women's Health Organization], which I support and returned it to the states and that's where it should belong. That's not a federal responsibility, and what works in New York will never work in North Dakota and vice versa. So some of these things need to be left to the states, and that's where they belong.

DAVIS: Do you remember the moment where you said, “I’m going to run for president of the United States”?

BURGUM: I do. I was out here with the family and kids and I said, “I’m ready to make the decision today.” And oldest son Joe said, “I think you should say it out loud. I think you should say it. You should just say it out loud.

”We went for a walk. We were out here, you know, beautiful, walking through the tall grass and in the woods. And I said, and it was hard, and I said to my own kids, I said, “I'm Doug Burgum, and I'm running for president.”

And at that moment, you can't make it up, an eagle flew down right over the top of us, like a big, beautiful bald eagle. We hadn't seen one all day. They don't live here. There's not one that we had prop like, you know, queue the bald eagle. But it literally flew down like 20 feet over our head and we all got the chills when that happened.

I haven't shared that with anybody, but I'm sharing it with you. Thanks for asking, Linsey.

DAVIS: As I ask, you got a little choked up about it. What is that emotion?

BURGUM: Well, I think about my dad, and I think about people like him. I think about him, because I think about the -- there's 80,000, little over 80,000 MIAs, in the history of America. So I -- the decision to run is not about, you know, politics and hot-button issues. It's about the security of our country, the future of our kids and our grandkids, and so it's a super big decision that I take super seriously. And, like I said, we ran it out of a heart of service.

DAVIS: Your greatest strength?

BURGUM: Courage.

DAVIS: Greatest weakness?

BURGUM: Are you asking what my Achilles' heel is?

DAVIS: [Laughs] Yes, very good.

BURGUM: Apparently, my Achilles' heel is my Achilles heel.

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