FARGO, N.D. — When Microsoft was on the verge of acquiring the software company that tech entrepreneur and soon-to-be GOP White House contender Doug Burgum had helped build from a small firm to one with more than 2,000 employees, he had specific ideas about where he wanted to iron out the details of the $1.1 billion deal.

He convened a meeting at a ranch deep in the rolling hills of central North Dakota. Between working sessions, he said in a recent interview, he dispatched soon-to-be co-workers to mend fence posts, then had them saddle up and move cattle. Burgum, who grew up shoveling grain and hauling fertilizer at his family’s grain elevator business, wanted the big-city Microsoft team to understand the work ethic of the employees they were acquiring, who were “mostly kids from small towns who grew up on farms or ranches,” he said last week during a driving tour that wound its way from the shabby converted warehouse where he helped build his company to the gleaming Microsoft campus at the outskirts of town.

As he enters a GOP field that has largely focused on polarizing debates involving gender, race, abortion and the politics of outrage, the governor not widely known outside North Dakota is attempting to bridge another kind of divide as he evangelizes about his small-town values. He said he wants to shift the GOP debate away from culture war issues and grievances to economic matters that “touch every American’s life” — even as he has signed legislation restricting abortion and transgender rights.

He is among the longest of long shots in a growing GOP field where former president Donald Trump has dominated and two other candidates joined the race this week. In his campaign launch on Wednesday in Fargo, Burgum intends to outline an agenda focused on his plans to help the nation adapt to a rapidly changing economy, expand domestic energy production and address the most pressing national security threats. “Woke was what you did at 5 a.m. to start the day” growing up in a tiny town in North Dakota, he said in a video teasing his kickoff.

While some other contenders are jockeying over who can be the toughest fighter in the GOP field against President Biden and the political left, Burgum emphasized the importance of humility in the interview — arguing that “government is at its best when you’ve got servant leaders that are acting for the good of the public.” And as Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delight in stoking culture war bonfires at their events, Burgum speaks with a measured cadence and a vocabulary that is heavy on jargon from the business world.

Burgum, who supported Trump and campaigned for him in Iowa in 2020, declined to critique the former president’s record in the White House, his policies or his conduct. He said he believed Biden was duly elected in 2020 — a rejection of Trump’s false claims about the contest. But he would not weigh in on whether the former president played a role in inciting the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building.

When asked how the combination of his three decades in the tech sector and his two terms as governor differentiate him from his rivals, he said he thinks “very clearly about inputs versus outputs.”

“I think of taxpayers like customers; I feel like I’ve got a duty to deliver value to them,” said Burgum, who worked at Microsoft after the acquisition of Great Plains Software and later founded a real estate development firm and a venture capital firm before he was elected governor in 2016.

But as Trump dominates national polling, with DeSantis in second and the rest of the pack well behind, there is scant evidence that GOP voters are pining for a shift in the debate within a polarized political climate where many are animated by anger and frustration at the opposing side’s views on abortion, LGBTQ rights and school curriculums.

Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist who conducts regular focus groups with GOP voters, said there may be a sector of the party electorate that is interested in hearing a deeper policy discourse from a candidate like Burgum. But she voiced skepticism that he could reorient the conversation and said the reason that the other candidates have leaned so heavily into the cultural issues “is because voters do think those things matter.”

“The information cycle has created an appetite for candidates who are talking about trans women in sports, despite the fact that the impact on people’s lives is incredibly small,” Longwell said. “But for them, it’s emblematic of the thing that they think about from the bigger picture — which is that America is changing in these massive ways, that the culture is getting away from them.”

Burgum said in the interview that the slate of North Dakota bills restricting the rights of transgender minors and adults was driven not by him, but by lawmakers in the GOP-controlled legislature. Yet he signed much of that legislation.

In April, he approved a ban on nearly all abortions that is one of the most restrictive in the country. He also signed bills that prohibit transgender girls and women from joining K-12 and college female sports teams and that criminalize health-care providers who offer gender-affirming care to minors.

He said in the interview that those issues will not be central to his presidential campaign: “They’re really, really important to some people, and for some people in state legislatures around the country, they’re the most important thing,” he said. “I listen to those people, and we navigate through all of that, but that’s not the thing that touches every American, and it’s not the thing that’s going to shape the direction of this country going forward,” he said. (He immediately pivoted to the need to curb “red tape, inflation, taxes and federal overreach.”)

The North Dakota governor is most eager to tout his state’s economic growth, how he has revitalized its main streets, as well as policies that have made the state second in energy production per capita. He has also focused on his efforts to draw more talent to his state, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. That includes a $66 million package he championed that provides financial assistance for child care to try to expand workforce participation in his state, particularly among women.

He demurred when asked about the message of DeSantis, the Florida governor who attempted to punish Disney after the company publicly opposed Florida’s restrictions on discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. When asked about that standoff, Burgum made a passing mention of two moderate former Republican governors whom he said he admires — Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland — before stating that he hasn’t found it useful or fruitful “to try and be a pundit on other governors.”

Burgum, a multimillionaire, said he intends to invest his own money in the campaign, but he would not say how much and stressed that he will also build a “broad-based, widespread” fundraising effort. He said he is confident that his resources will make it possible for him to meet the criteria set by the Republican National Committee to qualify for the debate stage: drawing 40,000 individual campaign donors and the support of at least 1 percent of voters in multiple polls.

To that end, after his announcement in Fargo, Burgum is heading to Iowa and New Hampshire, where he hopes his personal story of industry will resonate — from hoeing sugar beets as a sixth-grader to starting a chimney sweep business in college to his decision to take out a loan against the 160 acres of North Dakota farmland that he inherited, which he used as seed capital to begin building the software company that was acquired by Microsoft.

“We’ve always been value-driven with things like gratitude, curiosity, courage, humility and a sense of community,” Burgum said, describing the ethos of the software company he helped build as well as his fellow North Dakotans in the interview last week. “We thought it was important that they understand the culture.”

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