The latest presidential candidate to make the stage for the first Republican primary debate next month knows he doesn’t have the name recognition of former President Donald Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has embraced his underdog status, even selling T-shirts with that question on his campaign page.
The North Dakota governor officially met the Republican National Committee’s rules to participate in the August debate as of this week, he told USA TODAY on Tuesday. To reach the required minimum number of donors, Burgum relied on an unusual – and controversial – tactic: a $20 Visa or Mastercard gift card to anyone who donates at least a dollar to his campaign.
The former software executive sat down with USA TODAY to share more about his strategy to reach voters across the country.
Who is Doug Burgum?
Burgum is currently serving his second term as governor of North Dakota, his home state. The position was his entry to politics, and his first win in 2016 was a major upset. He defeated the favored Republican candidate and then-state attorney general Wayne Stenehjem by almost 20 points in the GOP primary.
Before taking office, Burgum served as president of Great Plains Software until Microsoft bought the company in 2001. The Stanford alum worked as an executive at Microsoft and later was a real estate and software investor.
Burgum endorsed Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential races. This time around, though, he said he believes the electorate is looking for someone new.
“I think there’s an eagerness for a fresh face and a different story. And I think it just hasn’t been presented yet,” Burgum said.
Burgum to join other big names on the debate stage
Along with other polling thresholds, the RNC is requiring any candidate looking to participate in next month’s Milwaukee debate to receive at least 40,000 individual contributions with at least 200 unique donors in 20 or more states.
Six other GOP candidates have met the requirements. Thanks in large part to his gift card giveaway, Burgum said he can now join this group that includes former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C.
The governor’s approach isn’t a clear violation of election rules, but some have criticized it. Burgum on Tuesday compared the move to a business decision that introduces voters to his “brand.”
“We just said, ‘Oh, that’s the rule? Well, let’s figure out a way,'” Burgum said. “We’ll do a hack, we’ll get around it. And we’ll do it in a way that’s completely legal and completely smart.”
He said it was also a response to the donor hurdle he said favored his more well-known opponents.
“The rule was set up to benefit people who’ve held national office, people who’ve been pundits on national television … or they’ve been career politicians in D.C.,” Burgum said. “It would oppose somebody from a small town, small state who’s trying to bring fresh ideas.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Doug Burgum campaign used a $20 gift card to get in the GOP debate