INDIANAPOLIS - Susan Brooks’ 5th CD campaign conducted internal polling in mid-April and the news was disheartening. She trailed the frontrunner - former congressman David McIntosh - by 20 points. Twenty points?
“We conducted two polls,” Brooks said, “One in February and one in mid-April. Both showed David McIntosh with significant leads. But in the February poll – the informed ballot – I won.”
And she won with the poll that counted most, on May 8 Election Day, defeating McIntosh by about 800 votes while carrying Marion, Hamilton and Boone counties.
Welcome to what may be emerging as the “Year of the Woman” in Indiana. It’s been a longtime coming for a smashing of the Republican glass ceiling in Congressional politics.
In 1948, U.S. Rep. Cecil Harden of Covington teamed up with U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine and U.S. Rep. Frances Bolton of Ohio to criticize the “male dominance” of the Republican Party.
Harden became the first Republican female congresswoman from Indiana when U.S. Rep. Noble J. Johnson resigned in July 1948 to accept a federal judgeship. The seat had been held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Virginia Jenckes, a three-termer who was defeated n 1938.
Harden retired in 1959, and for more than a half century, no Hoosier Republican woman would attain member status in Congress. That changed Tuesday night with Brooks' upset victory over McIntosh while former state representative Jackie Walorski won the 2nd CD nomination. Both Brooks and Walorski will be heavy favorites to win seats in November in races against Democrat State Rep. Scott Reske and Brendan Mullen.
And in the 9th CD, former Miss Indiana Shelli Yoder won the Democratic nomination and will take on freshman Republican Todd Young. Indiana Democrats have been much more inclusive over the recent years, sending Jenckes, Katie Hall, Jill Long and Julia Carson to the U.S. House.
"We are about to add two women to Congress," said Republican Chair Eric Holcomb. "In addition to the two congressional women, we also have the opportunity to add to the Statehouse composition," he said, with Cindy Ziemke's primary win in HD55, Morgan County Clerk Peggy Mayfield in HD60, and Attica Clerk-Treasurer Sharon Negele in HD13.
As this column is being written, there is rampant speculation that Republican gubernatorial nominee Mike Pence may also select a female to the ticket, following Lt. Govs. Becky Skillman and Kathy Davis as a new trend in inclusiveness, with speculation centering on State Reps. Sue Ellspermann of Ferdinand, Wendy McNamara of Mount Vernon, Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse, and co-founder and CEO of Langham Logistics, Cathy Langham.
The irony is that these breakthroughs came on the same night of the defeat of U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, who for years has sponsored the Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, a program to increase the number of Republican women in elected and government positions. At the annual banquet in February, Gov. Mitch Daniels noted that 140 Lugar Series women have served in his administration.
Brooks’ win is a dramatic comeback. She is the former Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney for Southern District and was sworn in a couple weeks after the 9/11 attacks. She has also served as deputy Indianapolis mayor under Stephen Goldsmith and as a vice president at IVY Tech. She has an impressive resume of law enforcement, municipal government and educating the workforce.
Brooks believes her “town hall” strategy paid off. She conducted 80 meet and greets across the district, with anywhere from 10 to 40 people at each one. “It was our version of door-to-door,” she said. But it wouldn’t have been enough without the residency issue, with McIntosh owning a home in Virginia. Was that the silver bullet?
“It certainly was,” Brooks said. “The Anderson Herald-Bulletin did a pretty direct and powerful editorial about David and (Madison County) Prosecutor Rodney Cummings. We showed that to our supporters.” Cummings had brushed off the residency attacks as “political.”
Then came the Kokomo Perspective news reports and editorials on May 1 where Howard County Republican Chair Craig Dunn called on Secretary of State Connie Lawson to make a ruling on McIntosh’s residency. Dunn’s concern was that the party would end up with a potentially tainted nominee (i.e. Charlie White).
The residency issue had virtually no impact in 2010 when Sen. Dan Coats moved back to the state, but it was devastating for Lugar and McIntosh. What changed? Possibly it was the 10% congressional approval rating Howey/DePauw found in its March 26-27 survey. It fit into a carpetbagger “out of touch” narrative their opponents used to devastating effect. Both McIntosh and Lugar saw leads dissipate in the final weeks of the campaign.
What kind of congresswoman will Brooks be? She says her coming constituency wants her to go to Washington and solve problems. “I did talk about how ineffective Congress is,” she said. “I talked about how polarized and partisan it has become. I’m into governing. I think most of Congress has gotten away from governing.”
She said she will reach out to various Republican groups in Washington, as well as Democrats. “I heard people voice concerns about the Republican Party and its inability to get things done,” she said.
Hoosier Republicans have found a rising star.
Find Howey on Twitter @hwypol.