David Wolfe Bender
Decision 2020: An Early Look at the Indiana 5th Congressional District
On June 14, 2019, Republican Congresswoman Susan Brooks (IN-05) announced that she would not be seeking re-election in 2020. The announcement shocked some in her own party, especially since Brooks was widely considered to be a rising star on the Republican side of the House floor.
She sat on the House Ethics Committee from 2013 – the year she entered Congress – to 2019. She chaired the Ethics Committee from 2017 to 2019. Additionally, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) named her the Recruitment Chair for the 2020 election cycle.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairwoman Cheri Bustos released a statement the day that Brooks announced her retirement. "Indiana's 5th district has been a DCCC targeted district from the day we announced our offensive battlefield," she said in the statement. "We intend to compete for and win this district because we are not just going to defend our Democratic Majority, we are going to grow it."
While Democrats really hope to flip the district in 2020, doing so will be a difficult task. In 2016, Brooks won the district by 27 points, with President Trump winning the 5th Congressional district over Hillary Clinton by almost 12 points.
The Indiana Democratic Party targeted the district in 2018, nominating businesswoman Dee Thornton to challenge Brooks. Thornton lost the district to Brooks by almost 14 points.
While Thornton's loss in the 5th district was bad news for Democrats, the state party was encouraged by positive results from other races in the 2018 election cycle. For example, young progressive state senate candidate J.D. Ford pulled off an upset victory against Republican Mike Delph to become the first ever openly gay candidate to win an election for the statehouse.
The Indiana Democratic Party was also encouraged by another statistic: Democratic senator Joe Donnelly – who narrowly lost to now-Senator Mike Braun – may have not won his 2018 statewide election, but he did win the majority of votes in the Indiana 5th Congressional District, the Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ) reported in August 2019.
"We believe [the 5th district is] heading our way," Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said to the IBJ. "It's a new place for us to compete."
Some political analysts also think that the district's demographics are changing; the 5th district includes Indianapolis suburbs that are very white and affluent. These districts are sometimes referred to as "Whole Foods" districts ("Whole Foods" districts were given their trendy name after a USA Today investigation found that the majority of the seats Democrats flipped in 2018 had a Whole Foods Market in them, a sign that these suburb districts are trending Democratic).
Some of these suburban districts (or Whole Foods districts, if you prefer) have made headlines in recent years. In 2018, Democrats flipped the Virginia 10th District – a district that includes Fairfax County, a very wealthy suburb of Washington D.C. The North Carolina 9th District held a high-profile special election in September 2019. The North Carolina 9th includes Mecklenburg County, a wealthy suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina. While the Democrat in the North Carolina 9th lost the election by a few points, the race signaled suburban voters shifting towards the Democratic Party.
Because the Indiana 5th Congressional District will be open with no incumbent running, candidates from both major parties rushed to enter Indiana's closely watched Congressional race.
There are 13 Republicans who have declared their candidacy for the Republican nomination in the fifth district. Included in this article are five of the top competitors.
Indiana State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell assumed her office in November 2014, replacing controversial Republican Richard Mourdock, who resigned in August of that year to pursue other professional interests. As of the end of 2019, she has fundraised more money than any other candidate in the Republican primary. Her campaign has almost $96,000 cash on hand.
One of Mitchell's top priorities is health care, and while she believes that "[n]o American family should ever face that type of financial uncertainty," she does not support a government-run healthcare system.
Her campaign has earned the endorsements of the Value in Electing Women (VIEW) PAC, a conservative committee that supports Republican women running for office. She has also been endorsed by former Indianapolis City-County Councillor Michael McQuillen, who called her a "fearless leader and a passionate public servant."
Dr. Chuck Dietzen
Dietzen founded Timmy Health Global, an Indianapolis-based organization that aims to "expand access to healthcare" around the world by sending medical service teams to support heath projects. He was also the Chief of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Indiana University's Riley Hospital for Children. Dietzen supports the expansion of President Trump's tax cuts, strong border protections and pro-life legislation.
His campaign holds more money than any of the Republicans running for the nomination, declaring over $228,000 in receipts in his 2019 fourth quarter filing. However, a lot of that money includes loans that Dietzen has taken out himself, according to FEC records. His campaign has spent significantly less money than his Republican opponents, having only spent $35,851 since the start of his campaign.
Beth Henderson, an Indianapolis business owner, has lived in Indiana's 5th Congressional District for 30 years. Her top priorities are healthcare reform and job growth. She also supports "efforts to rebuild our military and secure our southern border." U.S. Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) endorsed Henderson in early February.
Henderson drew controversy in March after the IndyStar obtained a voicemail recording of a campaign fundraiser stating that "Susan [Brooks]...recruited Beth [Henderson] to run for her [seat]." The IndyStar report led Congresswoman Brooks's Chief of Staff to tell the Henderson campaign to stop misrepresenting the conversations between Henderson and Brooks. The campaign told the IndyStar that the message from the caller was not a part of any script.
Despite the controversy, the Henderson campaign has raised significant amounts of money, totaling $196,000 in receipts in their last FEC filing. Almost 60% of the campaign's money comes from individual contributions, while the remaining 40% were personal loans taken out by Henderson. Her campaign is the second biggest fundraiser in the race, behind Kelly Mitchell.
Beckwith is a pastor at Northview Church (which has locations in Westfield, Carmel and Fishers). He's owned and operated some small businesses in the Fifth Congressional District. On his website, Beckwith makes it clear that he hopes to defend "true constitutional conservative values."
He unapologetically believes that Christianity should be a significant part of America's government. In an interview with Carmel High School radio host Chris Elmore – who runs a conservative radio show that features interviews with many of the 5th district's candidates – Beckwith stated that religion needs to be entangled with the federal government, including the teaching and practicing of religion in public schools. Elmore confronted his opinion by asking whether he believes the United States government should be involved with all religion or specifically Christianity.
"Here is why I say it has to [be based on Christianity]: because our founders said it has to," Beckwith said. "They are the ones who set up our country to work. They didn't build the foundation on Hinduism. They didn't build the foundation on Atheism or Secularism. They didn't build the foundation on Islam. They built it on Judeo-Christian beliefs."
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beckwith made controversial comments in a Facebook video. "This whole thing could be a ploy to destroy the greatest economy and strength of the American people," he said regarding China's role in the coronavirus.
Additionally, Beckwith said in the video that he was not complying with stay-at-home orders. "You want to throw me in jail?," he said. "Throw me in jail. I don't care."
The video – originally published on Facebook – has since been deleted, according to journalist Adam Wren, who initially posted the link on Twitter.
Beckwith filed for candidacy earlier than most other candidates, according to FEC records. He made the electronic filing on June 23, 2020, only nine days after Congresswoman Brooks's resignation announcement. Only two other candidates filed for candidacy before Beckwith.
Spartz was appointed to the Indiana 20th State Senate District in 2017 after the district's incumbent resigned their seat. She immigrated to the United States from Ukraine in 2000 and became a United States citizen in 2006. Spartz was one of the most recent additions to the Republican ballot, joining the crowded primary race on February 5th, 2020. There is no known financial data for her campaign, according to FEC records.
“I grew up in a socialist system, and we’re moving in that direction,” Spartz said to the Current in March. “I understand how bad it is.”
While she is fairly new to the race, lawn signs in support of her campaign can be seen in many places in Hamilton County, a vital county in the 5th Congressional District.
The Democratic field is significantly less crowded, with only three candidates widely considered to be viable in the June 2nd primary.
Before becoming a State Representative from Indiana's 87th District in 2013, Hale was an executive for Kiwannis International, an international service organization.
She ran as the Democratic nominee to become Indiana's Lieutenant Governor in 2016, alongside Democratic State Representative and gubernatorial nominee John R. Gregg. The pair – once thought to have a marginal lead over their Republican opponents – lost by nearly six points. Despite the loss, Hale grew in popularity with Indiana Democratic party voters.
She has more cash on hand than any other candidate running for the 5th Congressional District – in either party – with nearly $420,000 in cash (by the end of 2019). Additionally, Hale raised more money than any candidate in either party.
As for her chances at the Democratic nomination, she has spent over nine times more than her biggest Democratic opponent. The DCCC also announced their endorsement of Hale's campaign in January 2020, alongside a press release adding the Indiana 5th District to the DCCC's "Red to Blue" program that recognizes and identifies vulnerable GOP-held Congressional districts.
Other liberal organizations, such as EMILY’s List, the Latino Victory Fund, BOLD PAC and NARAL have also endorsed Hale in the 5th district.
Despite her 14 point loss in 2018, Thornton is running for fifth district again in 2020. She went to the University of Louisville on a basketball scholarship before she earned her MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.
Since the beginning of Thornton's campaign, FEC filing data suggests that she's raised just over $50,000 this election cycle. That said, she only raised $12,418.16 in individual contributions in the final quarter of 2019, significantly less than Hale's $216,251.18 (which is nearly 17 times Thornton's quarter four contributions).
Thornton is a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act and wishes to explore early access to Medicare for people aged 55 or older.
Christie has worked in healthcare and environmental industries, according to her campaign website. Her platform is headlined by her support for the Green New Deal, a set of pro-climate policies that have been proposed by the progressive plank of the Democratic Party. Included in Christie's plan is a goal to reduce carbon emissions in the United States by 50% by 2035 and then entirely decarbonize the United States by 2050. She also supports plans to "invest in innovation and research for...clean energy technologies."
Her campaign has raised over $20,000 since she filed for candidacy on June 7, 2019. She currently only has just over $6,500 in cash left in her campaign, per her last FEC filing.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb – in consultation with the state leaders of both major parties – announced that the primary election would be moved back to June 2nd, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All voters are allowed to vote by mail. For more information on voting in the upcoming primary election, visit the Indiana voter page. The deadline to register for the primary elections is May 4, 2020.