Brooks was 20% down before winning surge
Friday, June 15, 2012 7:22 AM
The article was originally published in the May 17, 2012 edition of Howey Politics Indiana.
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
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.
“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.” Half of her April poll occurred hours after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came to Fishers for a campaign stop that was covered by local TV that evening.
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. The April poll showed a huge set of undecideds. It was something Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll picked up in a very limited sample in the 5th CD. It was too small to be scientifically significant and was not part of the published polling information in the May 4 edition of HPI. But it confirmed what Brooks’ internal polling showed: there was a significant pool of undecided voters.
On Election Day, many Republicans crossed polling place parking lots undecided and Brooks picked up most of them.
What happened in the final two to three weeks?
Brooks believes her “town hall” strategy paid off. She conducted 80 of 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. That exposure had a cumulative effect. The campaign made 68,000 calls from its phone bank. But it wouldn’t have been enough without the residency issue.
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 Chairman 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). Then came Jim Shella’s WISH-TV interview with McIntosh following a Right to Life press conference at the Statehouse when McIntosh took off. That became the “walk away” interview.
The residency issue had virtually no impact in 2010 when Sen. Dan Coats had moved back to the state, but it was devastating to Sen. Dick 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.
Brooks also launched withering direct mail at McIntosh. Brooks said the campaign discovered that most voters didn’t know McIntosh lived in Arlington, Va., voted in Indiana, and was a Washington lobbyist. They also conjured up an element from the 2000 O’Bannon-Kernan playbook, attacking McIntosh’s attendance level while he was a congressman. Brooks mailers assailed McIntosh for lobbying for a “client that received billions of dollars from the Wall Street bailout.” The flyer read, “DC insider David McIntosh sold his values to the highest bidder.”
It forced McIntosh to go on the offensive with rebukes to Brooks and third-place finisher John McGoff. Devin Anderson, campaign chairman for McIntosh, told HPI, “We’ve been disappointed that John and Susan have chosen to not focus on fixing Washington but rather on politics of personal destruction. Both know their views are not conservative and in step with a majority of this district. They feel their only choice is to personally attack the true conservative.”
Then there was Indianapolis Star columnist Matt Tully’s excoriating tome on April 28. “Seeking to score a cheap political point as he seeks the 5th District nomination, McIntosh took callous aim at the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, an inspiring nonprofit group that has tackled issues such as domestic violence, job training and child care for low-income mothers,” Tully wrote. “With only his political fortunes in mind, McIntosh sought to tarnish an organization that has worked hard in recent years to help many of the region’s most vulnerable residents rise from their circumstances. Now that’s what you call ambition -- of the worst kind.”
Brooks campaigned on Election Day, making her final appearance 10 minutes before polls closed. She had a good feeling that the race had tightened. Not until five late precincts came in from Hamilton County did Brooks know she had won the nomination and, with the new 5th CD overwhelmingly Republican, very likely the congressional seat. She faces Democratic State Rep. Scott Reske in November and enters the race as a big favorite.
What kind of congresswoman will Brooks be?
She says her coming constituency wants her to go to Washington and solve problems. She cited her background that includes six years as U.S. attorney when she worked with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies on domestic terrorism, and IVY Tech, where she worked on Indiana’s nagging unemployment rate.
“I did talk about how ineffective Congress is,” she said. “I talked about how polarized and partisan it has become. I talked about that at 80 town meetings and that’s not what people want. 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.”
John Hammond III, Republican chairman in the neighboring 7th CD, believes Brooks will be an immediate rising star when she gets to Washington. Not only has she broken the gender barrier, she brings a vast resume of municipal government, education, law enforcement and counter terrorism. On May 8, Hoosiers watched a star launch.