Though his national media appearances have been scarce, Mr. Burgum has been able to break through during debates over energy policy, offering a window into how he might frame his proposals in contrast to those of Republican rivals and of President Biden. In March, he told Fox News that the Biden administration’s economic plan was “disconnected from economics, it’s disconnected from physics and it’s disconnected from common sense.” He argued that Japan and other Asian countries were ripe markets for American energy exports.
On Monday, his campaign sought to address his scant national name recognition with a glossy biography video in which the governor tells his life story, set to sweeping vistas of North Dakota bluffs and energy fields.
His campaign’s confidence that he can rise from a relative unknown to legitimate candidate derives from his own political career in North Dakota. When Mr. Burgum announced his bid for governor in 2016, he was an outsider with little name recognition outside Fargo, and his main opponent, Wayne Stenehjem, the state attorney general, received the North Dakota Republican Party’s endorsement.
But with ample resources and a campaign that ran to the right — Mr. Burgum endorsed Donald J. Trump for president in May 2016 — he cruised to a 20-percentage-point victory that The Bismarck Tribune proclaimed “upended the North Dakota Republican Party establishment.” He has not been seriously challenged in North Dakota since.
“There’s a value to being underestimated all the time,” Mr. Burgum told The Fargo Forum. “That’s a competitive advantage.”
As one of few candidates not from the East Coast, and with an upbringing deeply rooted in the rural Midwest, Mr. Burgum is likely to focus most of his efforts in Iowa, a state with an extensive agricultural community. Mr. Burgum grew up in Arthur, N.D., a town of barely 300 where his family owned the only grain elevator.
While attending North Dakota State University as an undergraduate, Mr. Burgum began a chimney sweeping service in Fargo out of a friend’s pickup truck. His newfound business attracted the attention of local newspapers, who ran photos of a soot-laden Mr. Burgum clad in a tuxedo hopping from roof to roof, picking up roughly $40 per chimney.