Rep. Susan W. Brooks — one of just 13 Republican women in the House — is not running for re-election in Indiana’s 5th District, a Democrat target in 2020.
“It’s a very, very personal decision — not really a political decision, as odd as that may sound,” Brooks told CQ Roll Call on Friday morning. She solidified her decision after spending time at the end of May in Alaska with her son, who recently moved there to teach.
“So it’s coming as a surprise to my colleagues, and I’m sorry about that surprise, but I have spent the last 16 out of 22 years in public service,” said Brooks, who is the chairwoman of recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Brooks informed supporters of her decision Friday morning. She didn’t give leadership time to dissuade her from leaving, reaching key leaders by phone Thursday night and Friday morning.
“Steve Scalise sweetly said, ‘Hey, can we vote on this?’ Which I thought was quite funny,” Brooks recalled of her conversation with the Louisiana Republican and House minority whip.
Party leaders have asked Brooks to stay on in her role at the NRCC for the remainder of the cycle. She’s optimistic that not having to focus on her own re-election will give her more time to recruit GOP candidates. She’s been especially active over the years in mentoring Republican women who want to run and plans to remain engaged in those efforts.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting Brooks’ seat, a longtime GOP stronghold, for the first time as younger, more moderate voters are moving out of Indianapolis into the suburbs. An open seat will likely give Democrats a better chance at picking up the district, which President Donald Trump carried by 12 points in 2016.
Former Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly narrowly carried the district last fall while losing re-election statewide by 6 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales has shifted the rating of the 5th District race from Solid Republican to Likely Republican in response to Brooks’ decision.
Before Brooks made a final decision, her campaign conducted polling of the district that left them confident a Republican could hold the seat in 2020. Brooks declined to name any prospective candidates by name. “We have a tremendous bench in the 5th District,” she said, praising the Lugar Center’s training of women who want to be in public service.
The open 5th District will likely attract lots of interest from candidates on both sides. Democrats have been talking up former state Rep. Christina Hale, who’s previously secured the backing of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and was the party’s lieutenant governor nominee on its losing 2016 ticket.
A number of Republicans could run including Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, state Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, former state Sen. Mike Delph, Indiana GOP executive director and former White House spokesman Pete Seat, Fishers mayor Scott Fadness and former 4th District Rep. Todd Rokita, who lost the GOP primary for Senate last year. Rokita, however, was quick to praise Delph on Twitter on Friday.
Asked if she was concerned about what kind of message her retirement sends to Republicans, especially women, considering running for office, Brooks said, “Well, sure. But I really want to stress that I have a very good relationship with the administration. I have a great relationship with leadership. I’ve been given lots of opportunities.”
“So I think I can demonstrate to people that the women in our conference are being given really big responsibility — and we do need more of them there.”