BISMARCK – The biggest question in the race for North Dakota governor may finally be answered next week.
Fargo businessman Doug Burgum said in a statement Thursday that he will announce Jan. 14 his intentions regarding the gubernatorial race. Additional details will be coming next week, he said.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and state Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, are so far the only Republicans who have declared their intent to seek the GOP nomination at the party’s state convention April 1-3 in Fargo.
Burgum, the former CEO of Great Plains Software who led the company through its $1.1 billion sale to Microsoft in 2001, expressed interest in the race after Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced in August he would not seek re-election.
Burgum had said he planned to announce his intentions this month. He initially said he wouldn’t rule out a run as an independent, but Adrienne Olson, a spokeswoman for Burgum with his property development firm, Kilbourne Group, said in November that if Burgum did run, it would be as a Republican.
Stenehjem’s campaign manager, Nate Martindale, told Forum News Service this week that he expects Burgum to skip the Republican Party’s nominating convention in April and go straight to the primary election in June if Burgum decides to jump into the race.
Martindale said he expects Stenehjem and Becker to be the only candidates vying for the GOP nod at the convention.
“I personally believe if Doug were to throw his hat in the ring, he would go straight to the primary,” Martindale said.
Becker said his campaign is preparing the same way whether Burgum enters the race and seeks the nomination or not.
“I don’t have any expectations. That’s one big fat question mark in my mind. I don’t know what Doug’s going to do,” he said. “I’m just preparing to push forward, regardless of who’s in at what time.”
Asked if the party would frown upon Burgum bypassing the convention, North Dakota GOP Executive Director Roz Leighton said state party rules support the convention process and endorsing candidates at that level.
“The party will always stick behind the candidate that’s endorsed at the convention,” she said.
Martindale and Becker said their respective campaigns will ramp up between now and the first GOP district conventions Jan. 19 in Fargo. Neither camp would say how much money they’ve raised so far, though Stenehjem’s campaign has previously disclosed eclipsing $100,000. Year-end campaign contribution statements are due at the end of this month.
Burgum is the founder and chairman of Kilbourne Group, which has renovated and repurposed a number of historic buildings in downtown Fargo. He’s also co-founder and partner of Arthur Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in software companies.
Meanwhile, with an exploratory committee actively raising campaign funds, it appears more likely that former state agriculture commissioner Sarah Vogel will run on the Democratic ticket.
Vogel estimated more than 50 people attended a "Seed Money for Sarah" fundraiser hosted by her exploratory committee Dec. 30 at the Peacock Alley restaurant in Bismarck, with U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., as the special guest.
“I’ve gotten a lot of support, and I’m making plans, but I do not have a date for an announcement,” Vogel said. “I’d say everything is looking quite positive.”
Asked if there was anything at this point that would stop her from running for governor, Vogel said, “Nothing comes to mind.”