Business world ties elevate key contenders in Trump's search for a running mate

Donald Trump is narrowing his running mate choices, and the business world ties of some top candidates are helping them rise on his list.

It also helps that they are aiding Trump's own search for new deep-pocketed donors.

The two leading examples of this dynamic are Ohio Senator J.D. Vance and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

Both (like Trump) have spent more of their careers in the private sector than in politics. And both have seen their chances improve as they've provided a bridge between the Trump operation and, respectively, Silicon Valley and the energy industry.

The private sector experience also appears to be an advantage on its own in the eyes of Trump, who has long gravitated to CEOs.


"He probably knows more about energy than anybody I know," Trump said of Burgum during a recent rally in New Jersey, adding cryptically, "so get ready for something."

Laconia, NH - January 22 : Republican presidential candidate and former president Donald Trump speaks with Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) at a campaign rally at the The Margate Resort in Laconia, NH on Monday, January 22, 2024. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate and former president Donald Trump speaks with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum at a campaign rally in Laconia, NH in January. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images) (The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Also notable: Both Vance and Burgum have been able to overcome past criticism of Trump to gain entry into his orbit this year.

Various recent veepstakes tallies have consistently put the two men near the top of the list. Other oft-mentioned candidates include figures like Sens. Marco Rubio and Tim Scott, who have less direct business world experience and entered politics earlier in their careers.

Of course, Trump being Trump, the list of contenders could change quickly, and the former president has a full month to make his pick after saying he wants to wait to announce until the Republican convention, which begins on July 15 in Milwaukee.

In a Fox News interview Thursday, Trump continued to tease the process. He reiterated that he would probably announce during the convention and that, while he isn't saying, "I have sort of a pretty good idea" of who it will be.

Back in February, Trump said of his VP search: "I want people with common sense because there are so many things happening in this country that don’t make sense." Representatives Vance and Burgum didn't respond to requests for comment.

Vance is currently Ohio's junior senator and is most known for authoring the memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" before being elected to the Senate in 2022.

What he talks much less about — it's fully omitted from his official Senate biography — is his time living in San Francisco and working as a venture capitalist for Peter Thiel at Mithril Capital.

But that experience has proven to be a crucial leg up during the veepstakes.

Vance recently leveraged his contacts — especially one with billionaire investor David O. Sacks — to help orchestrate a Silicon Valley fundraiser for Trump that made inroads in the deep blue area and raised a reported $12 million for Trump's campaign.

VANDALIA, OHIO - MARCH 16: U.S. Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH) steps on stage as he is introduced by Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump during a rally at the Dayton International Airport on March 16, 2024 in Vandalia, Ohio.  The rally was hosted by the Buckeye Values PAC. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Senator J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) steps on stage as he is introduced by Donald Trump during a rally in Ohio in March. (Scott Olson/Getty Images) (Scott Olson via Getty Images)

"These are some of the leading innovators in AI who are in that room," Vance said during a follow-up appearance on Fox News after the fundraiser.

Vance also confirmed during that conversation that he is being vetted by the Trump campaign, noting, "I'm very interested in helping [Trump] out whatever that looks like."

The story is similar for Burgum, the little-known governor of the 47th most populous state in the country who has nevertheless emerged as a top contender.

He grew close to Trump after his short-lived presidential campaign ended, with Burgum quickly endorsing and going all in for Trump.

But the business connections he brought to the table appear equally important.

Burgum is, according to Forbes, worth more than $100 million after he led a North Dakota software company in the 1980s and 1990s to an IPO and then an acquisition by Microsoft (MSFT) in 2001.

He remained at Microsoft as a senior vice president through 2007 before a stint as a venture capitalist. Then he made the jump into politics and first won North Dakota's gubernatorial election in 2016.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 14: Governor Doug Burgum (C) of North Dakota listens as former U.S. President Donald Trump (L) speaks to reporters at the end of the day's proceedings in his criminal trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 14, 2024 in New York City. Former U.S. President Donald Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first of his criminal cases to go to trial.  (Photo by Justin Lane - Pool/Getty Images)
Governor Doug Burgum of North Dakota traveled to New York in May to support former president Donald Trump during his criminal trial for covering up hush money payments. (Justin Lane/Getty Images) (Pool via Getty Images)

Burgum has forged close ties with the energy industry during his time atop North Dakota's government and helped deepen connections between Trump's campaign and figures like Continental Resources founder Harold Hamm, who has led a series of oil officials to give to Trump.

Hamm himself has given a flurry of money to Trump-aligned organizations, including a $614,000 check in March to the former president's "Trump 47" joint fundraising committee, according to federal election records

It was also Burgum who reportedly orchestrated a controversial recent fundraiser where Trump, according to the Washington Post, told oil executives they should raise $1 billion for his campaign because Trump would reverse dozens of Biden's environmental policies.

In his own Fox News appearance in recent days, Burgum fielded questions on his VP chances and engaged in a little flattery by saying that Trump works harder than the former tech CEO he used to spend time with.

Beyond Vance and Burgum, another business-aligned candidate has recently emerged as a somewhat surprise contender: Tennessee Senator Bill Hagerty.

He had a long career in private equity before becoming Trump's ambassador to Japan and winning election to the Senate in 2020.

Hagerty has populated his social media feed with campaign appearances, and a recent New York Times update on the running mate race listed him in the second tier of contenders (Burgum and Vance were in the top tier).

Trump's team has long downplayed the veracity of the various public vice presidential lists. Trump campaign senior advisor Brian Hughes said in response to queries for this story, as he has often said through the process, that "anyone claiming to know who or when President Trump will pick a vice president is lying, unless that person is named Donald J. Trump."

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 11: Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) speaks on border security and Title 42 during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on May 11, 2023 in Washington, DC. With the expiration of Title 42, the COVID-era public health emergency that allows for the quick expulsion of migrants, the southern border is expected to see a surge in asylum seekers. Hoeven was joined by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Sen. Deb Fisher (R-NE). (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) speaks at the US Capitol in 2023. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images) (Kevin Dietsch via Getty Images)

Other candidates often mentioned in the vice presidential race are figures like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, and Reps. Byron Donalds and Elise Stefanik.

One business world candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, has fallen off the list in recent weeks. Trump is considering the Roivant Sciences founder — and former Trump 2024 rival — potentially for other roles if he wins.

Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.

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