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Doug Burgum combines injury rehab with sprint to make second debate

The North Dakota governor is making adjustments on the campaign trail to accommodate his ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
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The New Hampshire Home Builders Association’s Lumber and Lobster event showered North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum with applause when he entered last week after an hourlong wait, which was forced because Burgum, a Republican presidential candidate, was getting an MRI scan of his ruptured Achilles’ tendon.

It’s an early preview of how Burgum’s pickup basketball injury before last week’s GOP primary debate will inevitably continue to affect his long-shot campaign, though Burgum notes the campaign hasn’t canceled any events and says it doesn’t expect to.

Despite some early concerns, the injury didn’t prevent him from participating in the first debate, and Burgum was one of the last candidates in the spin room afterward. But he faces an eight-week recovery, which he said will involve “progressive casting” and putting no weight on his injured leg to start, followed by adding weight throughout the recovery process. 

Doctors aren’t advising surgery because of the location of the tear, which Burgum said was “good news,” because it means he won’t have to take a day off of the campaign trail for the procedure.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks to the media ahead of the first Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee on Aug. 23, 2023.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks to the media before the first Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Aug. 23.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

“We didn’t let it stop us last night,” Burgum told NBC News the day after the debate at his first campaign stop since the injury. “We’re not going to let it stop us going forward.”

To get around in the meantime, Burgum said, he will use a combination of crutches and a scooter, which he used on the trail for the first time Tuesday during a retail stop at MaryAnn’s Restaurant in Derry, New Hampshire. There, he said the scooter “totally beats crutches.”

“We might have to have a naming contest for that,” he said of his new scooter. “It’s very, very, very quick and speedy. I like it a lot. I can go faster than my team can keep up walking.”

And Burgum said his first thought when he got the injury wasn’t about his presidential campaign. “I hope this doesn’t get in the way of skiing,” Burgum said he mused. 

Campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf, who was present when Burgum suffered the injury, recalled that Burgum thought he had been kicked in the back of the leg after having jumped and landed.

“Everybody was like, ‘Nobody kicked you in the back of the leg,’” Schrimpf said. “He’s like, ‘Oh, no.’” 

According to the campaign, he was taken to a Milwaukee-area hospital and discharged the same day. His ability to stand for two hours on stage was unclear until just hours before the debate, after he completed a walk-through of the venue.

“In North Dakota, we have a phrase called ‘Cowboy Up,’” he told a crowded room at Scott Brown’s No B.S. Backyard BBQ in Rye, New Hampshire, on Friday. “If you’re injured, you know, put up, shut up, go get the job done.”

Burgum used a stool at the event as people asked him questions and made announcements, but he then stood while he was speaking. 

“He clearly could’ve kept going, but Senator Brown cut it off,” Schrimpf said of the event, where Burgum spoke for over an hour. “So I think it shows that there’s going to be no, you know, no slowing him down.”

Former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., hosted the event.

The injury has even turned into a fundraising draw for the campaign.

Just hours after Burgum announced he would participate in the debate despite the injury, his campaign began selling T-shirts with a cartoon icon of Burgum playing basketball wearing an ankle boot.

“I don’t think it is something that we wished happened,” Schrimpf said. “But he’s, you know, making lemonade out of lemons.”

The injury comes at a crucial time for the campaign. 

After he gave away gift cards to get enough donors to make both the first and the second primary debates, the polling threshold Burgum faces for the second debate in late September is higher. Candidates must get 3% support in either two national polls or in one national poll and two early-state polls. 

Burgum said Friday that while the campaign has met the 50,000-donor threshold, he has yet to clear the higher polling bar, which he called “clubhouse rules.” 

“To get our national name recognition up, we’re going to have to bump up national TV advertising,” Burgum said at the event in Rye. “That doesn’t help us build relationships here in New Hampshire. It doesn’t help us get stuff in Iowa, but we’ll get it done.”