Color me shocked that Doug Burgum defeated North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem so soundly in the state’s Republican Party gubernatorial primary.
While we all knew it was possible, I never thought Burgum — a millionaire businessman and entrepreneur — would carry nearly every North Dakota county.
A friend, who is a huge Burgum supporter, asked me on Election Day how I thought it would all play out. I told him there’s no way western North Dakotans would vote for a Fargo tech millionaire to be their governor.
Boy was I wrong. And I wasn’t alone.
Few predicted a Burgum win, let alone a Burgum rout.
From the moment Burgum announced his candidacy, he just seemed to me like a guy with some good ideas who wasn’t going to get the chance to act on them. Sure, he had the money to win an election, but were small-town North Dakotans really going to turn out for this guy at the polls?
Perhaps the answer, in the end, is Burgum simply wanted it more.
He by no means ran a perfect campaign, but he did what North Dakotans wanted him to do — he went and talked to them.
He loaded up his crew in a 1974 bus and visited as many people in the state as he could. He went to places like the Dakota Diner in Dickinson to tell voters his vision for North Dakota. He made visiting small towns a priority, even going to Amidon (where he just happens to own a nearby ranch).
And he spelled out his vision to North Dakotans, who it seems clearly aren’t happy with the Republican Party’s wish for the status quo in the days following the oil boom.
Stenehjem — one of the biggest political faces of the oil boom as a member of the Industrial Commission — didn’t even come close to equaling Burgum’s campaign presence either in person or in advertising.
To his credit, Stenehjem should be commended for taking his job as the state’s attorney general seriously during campaign season and not shirking his duties to endlessly campaign.
Though if he wanted to be governor, perhaps he should have.
The biggest shift from this election, though, was that Democrats crossed the aisle in droves and cast votes for Burgum, who has many moderate to libertarian viewpoints. What that means for the general election, we don’t quite know yet, but signs sure seem to point to a Burgum landslide.
As Forum News Service columnist Mike McFeely put it Wednesday, Democratic governor candidate Marvin Nelson isn’t finding $8 million in a ditch in Rolette County anytime soon.
Sorry Marvin. But he’s right.
Republicans and Democrats came together to send Burgum on the general election, giving one of the state’s top politicians in Wayne Stenehjem a collective thumbs down and signaling a return to a business leader in the same vein as former governors John Hoeven and Ed Schafer.
Remember, neither Hoeven nor Schafer had political experience prior to taking over as governor, but were both well-known business leaders.
So now it’s time for Burgum to do what his Republican outsider counterpart on the national level can’t seem to do — unite his party (and others outside of it) behind him.
Then, should he win in November, he needs to make sure his money was spent wisely and actually do something to help North Dakota.