By Jim EllisJune 18, 2019 — The 2019-20 House open seat count reached double-digits as Indiana Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Carmel) announced late last week that she would not seek a fifth term next year.
With Brooks retiring and Montana at-large Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Bozeman) announcing that he will run for governor, the open seat count grows to 10 including the two North Carolina special congressional elections that will be filled on Sept. 10.
Most news outlets were reporting the Brooks announcement as a surprise, in large part because she chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee’s candidate recruitment operation. But, rumors of Brooks moving on from the House have circulated before, and she did attempt to become governor when incumbent Mike Pence left office after being selected as Donald Trump’s running mate. There was also speculation that she could leave the House next year in order to run for state attorney general.
Immediately after Pence left his Hoosier State gubernatorial re-election effort to campaign for vice president, an Indiana Republican Party committee was empowered to choose a new gubernatorial nominee. Rep. Brooks, along with fellow US Rep. Todd Rokita, declared for the special nomination, but the party committee members instead chose then-Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb who would go onto win the general election and now stands for re-election in 2020.
Rep. Brooks says her retirement decision is primed because of a desire to begin devoting her life to interests outside of politics. She will, however, continue in her NRCC role to lead the party’s recruitment apparatus in serving the balance of this current term.
Brooks was elected in 2012 to an open northern Indianapolis suburban district when veteran Rep. Dan Burton (R) retired after serving 30 years in the US House added to 10 non-consecutive years in the state legislature. She won an eight-way Republican open congressional primary in 2012, edging former congressman and current Club for Growth president David McIntosh by 1,010 votes to claim the party nomination.
Prior to her tenure in Congress, Brooks was an appointed US Attorney (George W. Bush administration) and served as Indianapolis’ deputy mayor.
In her four general elections, Rep. Brooks averaged 60.5 percent of the vote in a district that is showing signs of becoming more competitive. Democrats were reportedly flirting with the idea of attempting to recruit a strong opponent but unseating her would have been a daunting challenge.
The 5th District includes a section of north Indianapolis in Marion County and the adjacent cities of Zionsville, Carmel, Westfield, Noblesville, and Fishers. It then extends northward to encompass the remainder of Hamilton County, along with Madison, Grant, and Tipton Counties. IN-5 also includes parts of Boone, Howard, and Blackford Counties.
The 5th District plays as a right-of-center seat that is reliably Republican. President Trump won here in 2016 with a 53-41 percent margin, down from Mitt Romney’s 57-41% spread, but better than John McCain’s 53-47% count over then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.
Now that the 5th District will be open in 2020, we can expect to see a great deal of candidate activity coming to the forefront in both parties. The eventual Republican nominee will be favored in the general election, but a close outcome would not be a surprising occurrence.