North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has withdrawn his presidential bid after failing to meet the qualifying criteria for the fourth debate. The primarily self-funded candidate criticized the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) debate requirements, characterizing them as exclusive and detrimental to competition and fresh ideas within the party.
Burgum, a former software entrepreneur, largely financed his campaign using his personal fortune, which stemmed from the sale of his company, Great Plains Software, to Microsoft for $1.1 billion in 2001. He contributed over $12 million to his campaign, with substantial investments in television ads targeting Iowa and New Hampshire. His campaign and the Best of America PAC provided a total of $19.2 million in ad support as of September, alongside an additional $6 million spent on advertising.
Despite facing challenges, Burgum managed to secure a spot on the debate stage twice. He gained attention by offering $20 gift cards to individuals who donated $1 to his campaign, enabling him to meet the RNC’s qualifying rules of reaching 40,000 individual donors. While his innovative strategy led to participation in the first two Republican debates in August, an injury from a basketball game just before the event limited his airtime to approximately eight minutes.
In an effort to qualify for the second debate, the Best of America PAC launched a $4 million national TV ad campaign. Burgum eventually met the criteria but expressed dissatisfaction with his speaking time. He continued to offer gift cards to boost donor numbers in pursuit of a third debate appearance but fell short. The governor criticized the RNC’s debate participation threshold as resembling “clubhouse rules.”
Burgum, aged 67, entered the presidential race in June with a focus on economic issues and a desire to downplay cultural topics. However, he struggled to gain traction in national and early-state polls, with only 1 percent of likely Republican primary voters supporting him in an October Morning Consult poll. In another October poll by NBC/Des Moines Register/Mediacom, only 3 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers expressed support for Burgum.
Notably, Burgum’s political journey includes a surprising victory in the 2016 gubernatorial race, defeating North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem by more than 20 points. Prior to becoming governor, he had no prior experience in public office. During his tenure, Burgum implemented tax cuts, rolled back transgender rights, and signed a restrictive abortion law. As a candidate, he indicated that he would not support a nationwide abortion ban.