The announcement Friday morning that Indiana GOP Rep. Susan Brooks won’t run for re-election moves her suburban Indianapolis seat from Solid Republican to the Lean Republican column and gives Democrats a pickup opportunity in the lone congressional district in the Hoosier State that’s been trending their way.
But as problematic for Republicans is the message that Brooks’s retirement sends — she is the recruitment chair for the National Republican Congressional Committee and has been a leading voice for trying to bring more GOP women into their ranks. Now, they’re losing one of their 13 women in what would have been a safe seat.
This growing district just north of Indianapolis gave President Trump 53% in 2016 — his lowest total in any Indiana district he won — and down from the nearly 58% that Mitt Romney got here in 2012. Brooks, the former deputy mayor of Indianapolis, has been easily re-elected, taking 57% last November. In 2016, she outperformed Trump by 9 points. The Hamilton County base of the district, which makes up over 40% of the district’s population, has also been trending away from Republicans, given its increasing income and education levels. In 2012 Romney got 66% in Hamilton, but Trump got just 57% four years later.
In making her announcement to the Indianapolis Star, Brooks tries to dispel what will be the obvious conclusions drawn from her decision -- that she’s leaving because life in the minority is no fun and she doesn’t think they can win back the majority in 2020.
As I wrote earlier this year, this is a common trend once a party loses control, and don’t be surprised to see more GOP members head for the exits. But if it’s members in evolving districts like the 5th, it gives Republicans far more of a headache than they need as they try to get the 18 seats they need next year, in addition to trying to protect these seats as well. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had her on their retirement watch list -- which Republicans harshly dismissed as a possibility. But now it will be a much harder narrative for Republicans to spin that the woman supposedly in charge of helping them woo candidates to take back the majority can’t be wooed herself to stay (and apparently didn't give GOP leaders a heads up on her decision either). Brooks also says she plans to continue to help get more GOP women to run even as she has no plans to run for any other office in the future herself, and NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer said he plans to keep her on as their recruitment chairwoman for this cycle.
Democrats had already been touting Christina Hale, the Democrats’ 2016 nominee for lieutenant governor, as a possible candidate. Expect other candidates to look at the field, but Democrats are much better at clearing the field and circling up behind a candidate than Republicans have been (see IA-02). The Republican bench is still deeper here than the Democratic one, and former state Sen. Mike Delph had reportedly already been mulling a primary challenge to Brooks. Ultimately, it may take some time for the GOP field fully take shape. Regardless, this race will be competitive next fall, giving Democrats a chance to win a district they haven’t held since 1983.
Image credit: AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File