On the set of a Fort Lauderdale studio Sunday morning, Doug Burgum raised a mug halfway to his mouth and froze, apparently startled that Jake Tapper had thrown to him. The North Dakota governor quickly stashed his drink and flashed a smile to the camera.

The awkward moment spotlighted how Burgum, despite being one of Donald Trump’s top surrogates, is still fairly new to the spotlight. A year ago, few Americans outside his Upper Midwest state had heard of Burgum, a mild-mannered, self-made businessman. He is now seen as one of the top contenders to be the Republican running mate.

The big question is why.

One of his home state senators, GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer, said he was “initially surprised” over Burgum’s ascendance in the veepstakes campaign, “because a white male from a state with three electoral votes that haven’t gone to a Democrat since LBJ does not seem to bring a lot of electoral value to the ticket.”

But Cramer said the governor has “earned serious consideration,” particularly after showing off his knowledge on energy, economic and foreign policy. And despite Burgum coming across as one of the less-Trumpy Republicans in the presidential primary, he has been “unapologetically” advocating for and defending Trump since dropping out in December, the senator said.

“Nobody has played their cards better since the primary,” said Scott Jennings, a former political adviser to President George W. Bush. “Trump is a casting director. Who looks more like a VP than Burgum?”

And Burgum, Jennings added, is a “rich guy who could help with fundraising.”

A person familiar with the Trump campaign, granted anonymity to speak freely, said he’s already started to help. Burgum, whose Fargo-based tech startup was purchased for $1.1 billion by Microsoft in 2001, is making a significant number of fundraising phone calls, participating in finance meetings and is bringing in new major donors to the campaign, according to the person.

That Trump is weighing such a staid candidate — amid concerns that the former president still embraces chaos — is not lost on some.

“No drama. Won’t outshine the top, but seems like a loyal guy who will work and do what’s asked of him,” Jennings said, comparing Burgum favorably to the flailing vice presidential hopeful Kristi Noem. “And as far as I know he’s not out here dying on Dog Murder Hill everyday.”

Last week, the governor — who isn’t seeking a third term in office in North Dakota — appeared on Trump’s behalf in New Hampshire, and before that he had recently represented the Trump campaign at Republican events in Virginia and Nevada. Later this month, Burgum will speak at North Carolina’s GOP convention.

Burgum has made a handful of trips to Mar-a-Lago in recent weeks, including having Easter brunch with Trump and his family at the former president’s request, according to two people with knowledge of the visit who were granted anonymity to discuss the trip.

A friendship between the two budded as Burgum volunteered to be a surrogate for Trump’s campaign during the early state blitz, particularly during a flight from Iowa to New Hampshire in January when Burgum traveled on Trump’s plane, surrounded by bags of McDonald’s food brought on board for the trip. It was the North Dakotan’s first time on the plane, he told Virginia Republicans at a closed-door event last month, according to a person present, and the governor was struck by how hard Trump and his staff were working — and how much policy was being discussed just hours after winning the Iowa caucuses.

Unlike others who have angled to be Trump’s running mate, Burgum is not a firebrand. He is not an anti-woke crusader and launched his presidential campaign with a pledge to eschew “anger, yelling, infighting,” instead saying he would “listen with respect” and “talk things out.” In his campaign launch video 11 months ago, Burgum was shown riding horses, repairing a barbed wire fence and eating around a campfire.

“I don’t think it does anything to help the ticket,” conservative radio host and Trump ally John Fredericks said of a hypothetical Burgum pick. He speculated that Trump likes Burgum because he was a “very effective businessman.”

“It would be a natural fit for Trump to like him,” Fredericks said, but Burgum “adds nothing.”

It’s unclear how seriously Trump is weighing diversity or appeal to non-Republican voters in his decision-making. A loose list of potential running mates that Trump’s advisers have confirmed were under consideration includes women and Black and Hispanic men, including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Brian Hughes, a senior adviser to Trump, in a statement to POLITICO said, “Anyone claiming to know who or when President Trump will choose his VP is lying, unless the person is named Donald J. Trump.”

A spokesperson for Burgum declined to comment, though Burgum has publicly downplayed the notion that Trump has narrowed down a list of likely running mates.

Burgum offers little in the way of racial diversity or being relatable to suburban women when discussing abortion rights, though he is a different flavor of Republican than many of the MAGA politicians who frequent Mar-a-Lago.

Asked early on in his presidential bid if he would hypothetically ever go into business with Trump, Burgum said he did not think so. “I think it’s important that you’re judged by the company you keep,” Burgum told NBC as he was vying for the Republican nomination, a campaign that got him onto the GOP debate stage twice but failed to gain traction.

Burgum as a presidential candidate largely shied away from social issues, instead focusing primarily on economic measures.

More recently, though, Burgum has become a consistent defender of Trump, downplaying controversial comments the former president made over the last week about Democrats buying votes from welfare recipients and comparing the Biden administration to the Nazi Gestapo force.

His style and rhetoric — so long as it doesn’t drastically change — could serve as a complement to Trump’s brash demeanor, not unlike Mike Pence in 2016.

But Burgum’s conservative approach isn’t influenced by deep religious convictions and devotion, as it was with Trump’s first running mate. While Burgum signed legislation enacting a six-week abortion ban in North Dakota and various bills curbing rights for transgender people, he rarely brought up the issues unprompted on the campaign trail — and he has long maintained he would not support restricting abortion at the federal level.

Burgum, unlike Pence and Scott, who frequently met with Christian ministers and quoted scripture on the stump, did not go out of his way during his presidential run to court conservative evangelical voters. And Burgum as a presidential candidate largely shied away from social issues, instead focusing primarily on economic measures.

In both public and private conversations, the North Dakota governor gets particularly animated when he talks about energy policy. He closed out his interview with Tapper on Sunday — an interview the Trump campaign was pleased with, according to a person apprised — doing just that as Burgum explained why he believed Trump is the best pick for president this fall.

“As someone that runs a natural resource state” and served under both Trump and Biden, Burgum told Tapper, “the difference is night and day for our citizens, for our small businesses … we’re under a barrage of red tape that’s trying to basically shut down U.S. energy.”

Frequently on the campaign trail, Burgum appeared with and discussed his second wife, Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, whom he married in 2016 and who has spoken out about her struggle with and recovery from alcohol addiction. Burgum has said he does so in an effort to remove the taboo surrounding addiction and substance abuse, an issue that affects many Americans and their families.

“Doug would make a comfortable campaign partner and an even better governing partner for President Trump,” Cramer said. “He is earning this shot every day.”

Alex Isenstadt contributed to this story.

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