Des Moines Register

10 August 2023

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum wasted no time getting to know potential supporters at the Iowa State Fair.

Within an hour of gates opening to the public Thursday morning, on the first day of the fair, the North Dakota governor and presidential candidate had stationed himself at the Iowa Republican Party’s booth — giving passersby an elevator pitch on himself and snapping photos alongside his wife, North Dakota First Lady Kathryn Burgum.

He found a larger, more captive audience Thursday afternoon, as he took the stage at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox. Burgum, who has qualified for the first presidential debate but has struggled to poll higher than 1% or 2% nationally, was the first of 13 candidates to speak at the Soapbox.

Doug Burgum says Biden ‘180 degrees wrong’ on energy, economy and national security

Burgum, who has small-town North Dakota roots and found success at a tech startup before jumping into the governor’s race in 2016, stayed laser-focused on three policy areas throughout his remarks Thursday: energy, the economy and national security.

The Biden administration is “180 degrees wrong on all of these,” he said, and he told reporters that any candidates focusing on any issues besides those three have their priorities mixed up.

Other areas, like social issues and “culture war” focuses that other Republicans have honed in, can be dealt with elsewhere, he said.

“When you’re a CEO, if you’ve got something that can be handled down in a sales office or by a customer service rep, the CEO doesn’t do it,” Burgum said. “You don’t have to tweet about it. You just get it done. You serve your customers and then the CEO can focus on the biggest, hardest problems.”

But the governor declined to comment directly on any of his Republican rivals, saying he would leave analysis to the pundits while running his own campaign.

“I have no opinions on other competitors,” Burgum said.

Doug Burgum touts North Dakota’s carbon-neutral plan

Asked by the Register how he stands out on energy policy in a GOP field that has almost entirely called for American energy independence, Burgum spoke extensively about his leadership in North Dakota — noting the state’s pledge “to get to carbon neutrality by 2030, and we’re doing it with zero mandates, zero regulations.”

But he said he would remain committed to alternative fuels such as ethanol and carbon pipelines, including a Summit pipeline in his state that was recently denied a permit by the North Dakota Public Service Commission and will soon come before Iowa regulators.

“I have every expectation that pipeline is going to be approved in North Dakota,” Burgum said.

The native of Arthur, North Dakota, a town of around 300 people, Burgum leaned heavily into his small-town roots while speaking to Iowans, remarking that he and his wife “feel at home” in the Hawkeye State.

And to demonstrate his ability to overcome steep odds like those facing his presidential campaign, he pointed to how he met his wife — who grew up in a larger North Dakota town and was referred to as a “Class A” girl and he a “Class B” boy, a reference to the state’s high school sports divisions.

“Class A girls never marry Class B boys,” Burgum said to laughs. “You think I can’t win, just understand what I’ve already accomplished in my life.”

Doug Burgum at the fair: Shaking hands, touring grounds & holding a baby

After an hour at the Republican table in the Varied Industries building, Burgum sat down for a radio interview and then ventured onto the fairgrounds — joined by Iowa’s U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn as the two wandered through crowds and took in the sights.

They ran into Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird along the way, stopping for a brief conversation with her and a state trooper about immigration policy. And they encountered a family with infant triplets — one of whom Burgum held as he introduced himself and his wife.

Burgum demurred when asked if Iowa’s state fair was better than North Dakota’s.

“I wouldn’t say it’s superior, but it is larger,” Burgum told reporters Thursday morning. “But I’m going to have to check on a per-capita basis. We’ve got a great state fair in North Dakota, but this is pretty spectacular. The Iowa State Fair, they know how to get it done.”

Flipping pork chops with Gov. Kim Reynolds

Later in the afternoon, he stopped by the Iowa Pork Producers’ Association tent to flip pork chops — later joined by Gov. Kim Reynolds, who stopped by the grills after doing an interview for Fox News across the street.

Iowans who met Burgum at the fair Thursday came away with a positive impression — he was told that one called him “too decent” to be the nominee — but others that came across him were dubious of his ability to gain traction.

“He wouldn’t stand a chance against Trump, would he?” one man remarked to Iowa GOP staff while browsing his campaign literature.

Rick and Maureen Fedson, who live in Des Moines, said they would likely caucus in January and most favored U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and Burgum.

“I want someone who can speak on why they care and not feel like they’re lying with every breath,” Rick Fedson said, Maureen nodding in agreement.