GOP Congresswoman Susan Brooks, “Team Red’s” Recruiter, Calls It Quits July 14, 2019
A congressional incumbent calls it quits, deciding not to run in the next election. What’s the big deal? Normally, this matter should just concern that local district and which candidates will run to replace that legislator. If the district is lopsidedly “Red” or “Blue,” winning the contest in that heavily favored party’s primary usually guarantees an easy November general election win. However, if this outgoing congressman/congresswoman is on important committees or works in his/her party’s leadership to finance or recruit candidates, that’s one major migraine headache. In addition, should this district be a swing one, or the opposing party sees a chance to make this district competitive when there is an open seat, this retirement, to paraphrase Joe Biden, constitutes a BFD, “Big F--ing Deal.” If this retiring congressmember is also a minority or a female that the party often showcased, we have a BFPD, a “Big F—ing Plus Deal.”
On 6/14/2019, 4th term Indiana Congresswoman Susan Brooks (58) announced she would not be running for a 5th term in 2020. Brooks currently represents IN’s 5th Congressional District (CD). The Hoosier 5th takes in Indianapolis’ north side and its eastern and northern suburbs. The cities of Carmel, Anderson, Noblesville, Fishers, and parts of Kokomo are in the 5th . The suburban 5th is 94% white and is IN’s wealthiest district, per median income. Retail, financial services, and health care constitute the 5th’s economic pillars (Barone & CQ 14 Political Almanacs).
Politically, the 5th has been GOP territory. Its latest Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) gives it an R+9 score (4/07/17). After voting for Romney in 2012 by 16 points, 57%-41%, it gave Donald a smaller 12- point win in 2016, 53%-41%, while most of IN was going stronger in the “Red” direction. In 2018, although Dem. U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly lost his re-election bid by 6 points, he narrowly carried the 5th by a .5 margin (twitter.com/JMiles Coleman, National Journal). Even before Brooks’ retirement announcement, national Democrats saw her seat as winnable. The 5th is a highly educated suburban district, the type Democrats often carried in 2018 that helped them recapture the House. While Trump appeals to non-college working class whites, his crude offensive MAGA and anti-immigration talk repels many classic country-club GOPers, which the 5th contains. Earlier this year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had put Brooks’ IN 5th on its list of 33 targeted House seats. Without the advantage of an incumbent, “Team Blue” has a chance to hotly contest the Hoosier 5th. Within hours of Brooks’ retirement announcement, election analysts, including Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Nathan Gonazles’ Inside Elections changed the 5th’s rating from Solid Republican to Lean Republican in 2020 (indystar.com, Lange, 6/17/19). BFPD (Big F-ing Plus Deal) #1.
Brooks’ retirement creates another GOP problem. In 1/2019, she had been appointed head of the NRCC’s, (the National Republican Congressional Committee’s), candidate recruitment post. Brooks’ job was to get more GOP members to run for the House, including women and women of color. She is thinking of stepping down from her NRCC job, an outfit that has been in disarray with infighting and money problems (kos, 6/12/19). Even if she stays in that position, with retirement on her mind, her best efforts will not be devoted to recruitment (See Kos, 6/17/19, USA Today, twitter.com/juliegraceb/status). After the 2018 elections, Cong. Brooks is just one of 13 women in the House GOP caucus. As FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich stated, “Just like that, the GOP loses 8% of its women (See also shareblue.com, Singer, 6/14/19).” And recruiting women is not a big priority for many GOPers. NRCC head Tom Emmer (R-MN) has called female outreach “a mistake (shareblue.com, Martin, 11/06/18).” After the GOP lost the House, Brooks was booted from the more powerful job she really wanted, being on the GOP’s influential Steering Committee. That group assigns members to various committees. She publicly acknowledged being “disappointed” by that move. A male replaced her (nytimes.com, 12/02/18). With 89 Democratic women serving in the present 116th Congress and with Democrats handily winning the women’s vote for Congress in 2018 by 19 points, 59%-40%, the women’s GOP problem continues. BFPD #2.
Brooks has voted with Demagogue Donald over 98% of the time. However, she touts “bipartisanship,” and made a big fuss over voting last month for a bill banning LGBTQ discrimination. A former deputy mayor of Indianapolis and a U.S. Attorney appointed by W Bush, Brooks has easily coasted to victory in her last four elections, although in 2018 she won by her lowest margin, 13.6 points, as opposed to her previous 20-30- point ranges. She did good constituent work. She is fiscally conservative and anti-choice, but pushes hard against sexual harassment (indystar.com, Lange, 6/17/19, votesmart.org, Groppe, indystar.com, 12/14/17). GOP leadership gave her good assignments on the Ethics Committee and picked her as a first-year Congresswoman to sit on the Benghazi panel that ridiculously went after Hillary for nearly a day to try to tar her reputation (See nytimes.com, Weisman & Steinhauer, 5/21/14). Brooks was able to excite the MAGA base with her strong Trump votes. However, her less controversial and “moderate” stands, and her sometimes signing on to bipartisan legislation made her acceptable to affluent college-educated GOPers. As a woman, Brooks could tout a nearly 80% -85% conservative record yet not look reactionary (National Journal, Koch Americans for Prosperity rating). The next GOP nominee will have a tough act trying to balance the MAGA and country-club sets. BFPD #3.
Besides, turnout, the “R” word or “recruitment” is key to winning this race for Democrats, especially in this GOP-leaning district. On 7/11/2019, former IN House of Representatives member Christina Hale (44) announced she’d be running for the open 5th seat. Hale has name recognition. Hale was the 2016 Lt. Gov. running mate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg. Gregg and Hale lost that race to GOPers Eric Holcomb and Suzanne Crouch by just 6 points, while Trump was carrying “super-Red” IN by 19. Holcomb had been appointed by the IN State GOP Committee to replace Gov. Mike Pence who had been tapped as Donald’s VP (nytimes.com, 8/01/17 & 12/08/16). Kip Tew, a former Democratic Party chair who ran Obama’s 2008 successful IN campaign, stated Dems have an “excellent shot of winning if Hale is the candidate.” Tew noted that Hale can win in marginal districts and had flipped a state GOP district. He said she knows how to raise money. Dee Thornton, the Democrat who lost to Brooks in 2018, is also interested in running again, but Hale, a candidate recruited by the DCCC as far back as last year, will probably clear the “Team Blue” primary field. Hale stated she would have run even if Brooks had not called it quits (indystar.com, Lange, 6/17/19, kos elections, 7/12/19). On the GOP side, in this “Red” district, there is a deep bench. At least 10 “Team Red” members are considering running in the 5th. Prominently mentioned as a “Team Red” 5th hopeful is former State Senator Mike Delph. Delph emphasizes his social conservatism rather than economic issues. He has the backing of right-wing stalwart, former IN 4th CD Cong. Todd Rokita. Delph lost his State Senate seat in 2018 to a Democrat. GOP State Senator John Ruckelshaus hasn’t ruled out a run (indystar.com, Lange, 6/17/19). He has a famous Hoosier name. He is the nephew of William Ruckelshaus, the former Deputy Attorney General under Nixon who was fired after refusing to ax Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in the 10/1973 “Saturday Night Massacre.” John Ruckelshaus has a strong conservative record, but it is not a “Tea Party” follower (seevotesmart.com).
Again, this race is now considered by political handicappers to be in play for “Team Blue.” However, it wil require Hale to run a flawless campaign. She will need “y uu ge” voter turnout and much money to flip this “Red”-leaning GOP district. IN, presently, has a 7-2 GOP v. Dem House delegation. The two Democrats, Peter Visclosky and Andre Carson from the IN 1st and 7th CDs, represent the industrial/urban Gary area and the city of Indianapolis respectively (Barone 14). Analysts believe that if any other IN district can go “Blue,” the 5th is it. Even if we don’t take the 5th in 2020, we can force GOPers to compete in what was normally “safe” ground for them and make them play defense. As Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Tom Perez says, “We (Dems) must compete in every zip code.” Competing in every zip code includes contesting every congressional district.