“The number of competitors was kind of noise, because some were good, some were bad, some were whatever,” Burgum, who was riding in an SUV, said in an interview with NBC News, the first since he became interested in a position in the White House. the offer was made known. “The signal was that the software was going to change the world. So I had the right signal.»

Burgum’s likely candidacy follows DeSantis’ struggles to assert himself as the GOP’s strongest alternative to Trump. Undaunted by a field that could soon grow even larger, Burgum has begun assembling a staff and collecting video footage that could be used for ads that the billionaire said he is prepared to self-finance.

“I’ve always had my own skin in the game,” Burgum said. “I always felt that I would never ask others to invest if I wasn’t always investing.”

Though he dodged questions about his potential rivals, he made it clear that his message would differ from theirs and that he sees a path for himself by focusing less on grievances of the culture war and more on the economy, energy policy and national security. .

«Everything else,» he said, «gets better if we solve those problems.»

And Burgum, who doles out medallions bearing the North Dakota seal and a pledge of gratitude and humility, consciously or not consciously presented several sharp contrasts to the feisty DeSantis.

A highway outside of Arthur, North Dakota, on Wednesday.
A highway outside of Arthur, North Dakota, on Wednesday. Tim Gruber for NBC News
Diners at Kelly's Cafe inside the Arthur Mall on Wednesday in Arthur, ND, population 328.
Diners at Kelly’s Cafe inside the Arthur Mall on Wednesday in Arthur, ND, population 328.Tim Gruber for NBC News
A puzzle in progress at the Arthur Mall in Arthur, ND on Wednesday.
A puzzle in progress at the Arthur Mall in Arthur, ND on Wednesday.Tim Gruber for NBC News

Both governors recently signed legislation banning abortion at six weeks and restricting the rights of transgender people in their states. And both have veto-proof Republican majorities in their legislatures. But Burgum doesn’t normally emphasize such issues, while DeSantis defended a bill that would ban the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms until the third grade, legislation critics have dubbed the «Don’t Say» bill. gay».

“Cultural issues can be handled by states and they can be handled by school boards and local libraries and city commissions,” Burgum said. «And there are certain things that the federal government has to focus on, and that’s what our campaign will be about.»

At another time, Burgum recalled his defense of masks during the height of the pandemic as a plea for empathy at a time when the country had «become a bit of neighbor fighting neighbor.» (DeSantis once mocked students for wearing masks at a press conference.) Burgum also bragged about North Dakota’s youth population on the rise — a testimonial, he said, of young families finding opportunity in the state. (DeSantis often boasts that Florida is the warm-weather destination of choice for older retirees.)

Doug Burgum on the rooftop patio of the Fargo development company he founded.
Doug Burgum on the rooftop patio of the Fargo development company he founded.Tim Gruber for NBC News

Burgum prefers fashionable dark jeans to slacks and speaks passionately about architecture and urban planning. From the rooftop patio of the Fargo development company he founded, he gave a virtual tour of downtown, pointing out where power lines had been moved underground and how parking areas could be built to make better use of the space. commercial and residential space.

As he commuted between Fargo and Arthur, he described himself as the kind of traditional pro-business, anti-regulation Republican who thrived most before Trump took control of the party. Still, he resisted any impulse to make more explicit distinctions, and for nearly four hours he never mentioned Trump.

“You wouldn’t go into a market as someone with 0% market share and start criticizing others,” he said, acknowledging his lack of name recognition. «Basically, you have to make the case why people should pay attention, why people should spend some time understanding what the alternatives are.»

‘What is software?’

Arthur, population 328it’s just over a half-hour’s drive from Fargo and occupies just 1.5 dusty square miles.

Burgum’s family has controlled the grain elevator that towers over Main Street since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. It remains, after all these years, the centerpiece of a business portfolio that has spanned from the area’s first power company to the modern advent of Big Green Egg grills and smokers.

At first, Burgum shared his family’s entrepreneurial spirit while asserting his independence. Drawn by the mystique of the outdoors, he spent two months hitchhiking to and around Alaska in the summer after his sophomore year in North Dakota.

In his senior year, with rising energy costs, he borrowed a friend’s red 1947 Chevy pickup and started a chimney-sweeping service that brought in at least $40 per job. A local newspaper published photos of him climbing across rooftops in a top hat and tuxedo, looking like Dick Van Dyke in «Mary Poppins.» Impressed by his busyness, one of Burgum’s professors encouraged him to apply to business schools.