Indiana 5: Who’s Your Successor?

by Erin Covey February 10, 2023 · 12:00 PM EST

With Gov. Eric Holcomb term-limited, Sen. Mike Braun running for governor, and Rep. Jim Banks running for Braun’s Senate seat, the 2024 election cycle is moving full steam ahead in the Hoosier State. Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz’s announcement that she won’t run for re-election only adds to the political shuffling.

Spartz is the first House member to announce she’s not running for any political office in 2024 — an abrupt development after the congresswoman had considered running for Indiana’s open Senate seat, and after the latest round of redistricting made her suburban district more comfortably Republican.

The Lay of the Land
Based in the northern suburbs of Indianapolis, the 5th District is a fairly red seat, and the congresswoman’s successor will likely be decided in the GOP primary next year. Spartz won her 2022 re-election bid by 22 points, and President Donald Trump would have carried the district by 16 points in 2020.

Republican Rep. Susan Brooks represented much of the area for eight years until her retirement in 2020. Before the latest round of redistricting, the previous version of the 5th included parts of the liberal-leaning Marion County and was becoming more competitive. Republicans were at risk of losing the open seat in 2020, but Spartz ultimately defeated her Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Christina Hale, by 4 points.

The bulk of this district is in Hamilton County — the fastest growing county in the state. The suburban communities lean Republican, though support for the GOP has clearly eroded over the past several years; Trump won the county by 19 points in 2016 and 7 points in 2020. 

The rest of the district, encompassing the surrounding counties of Madison, Delaware, Howard, Grant, and Tipton, is significantly more rural and ruby red.

Though the new version of the 5th is still trending blue as Democrats begin to make inroads in Hamilton County, a Republican should be favored to hold this seat for the next several years under normal political conditions. 

The Republican Field
Three years ago, Spartz, then a state senator in her first term, defeated 14 other Republican candidates in the primary to succeed Brooks and won 40 percent of the GOP vote. Indiana Republicans expect the race to succeed Spartz will be just as crowded. 

“Tons of ambitious Republicans are packed in this community,” one Indiana-based strategist told Inside Elections.

So far, only a few Republicans have publicly confirmed that they’re interested in running. But it’s only been a week since the congresswoman’s announcement, and that list will grow in the coming months.

Brooks’s former chief of staff, Megan Savage, is seriously considering running for her former boss’s seat. After working as a deputy prosecuting attorney in Marion County, Savage was involved in Indiana Republican politics for over a decade. She’s currently the vice president of external affairs at The Heritage Group, an Indianapolis-based construction firm.

“Good news for those of you encouraging my wife to run for Congress. The boys and I voted, we’re 4-0 in favor,” GOP political consultant Cam Savage tweeted after the news of Spartz’s retirement broke.

Former state Sen. John Ruckelshaus is also mulling a campaign, and told Howey Politics Indiana that he’s “very concerned about the fiscal shape of American and the tenor (or lack thereof) and tone of the public discourse.” He currently works at the Indiana State Medical Association as the vice president of governmental affairs.

Ruckelshaus has deep roots in local Republican politics, having served in the state Senate from 2016 to 2020 and in the state House from 1990 to 1992. He’s the son of Indiana state Sen. John C. Ruckelshaus, and the nephew of William Ruckelshaus, a deputy attorney general in the Nixon administration who was one of the first officials to resign during the “Saturday Night Massacre.” 

Local elected officials from Hamilton County would have a natural advantage over Republicans further outside of the Indianapolis suburbs. State Rep. Chuck Goodrich, the president of an electrical construction company, is on the list of potential candidates and would have the ability to spend significant personal money on a campaign. Goodrich has served in the state House for the past four years and represents Noblesville, the Hamilton County seat. 

State Sen. Scott Baldwin, also from Noblesville, succeeded Spartz in her state Senate seat in 2020 — after originally challenging Spartz in the state Senate primary — and could follow her path to Washington. The Marine veteran and police officer is the CEO of a local construction company, and in the Republican primary for the open state Senate seat he had the support of a PAC with union ties. Baldwin was notably on a list of Oath Keepers in 2021, though he denied that he was a member.

State Rep. Chris Jeter, who represents parts of Hamilton and Madison Counties, has been mentioned as another potential candidate. And Hamilton County GOP Chair Mario Massillamany also said that he’s considering a bid.

Indiana Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers has also been mentioned as a potential candidate, though he may have his eye on higher-profile offices. The founder of Buckingham Companies, a real estate investment firm, was appointed to the position by Holcomb in 2021.

And some of the host of candidates who lost to Spartz in the 2020 primary could run again for the seat. Beth Henderson, a nurse and first-time candidate, came in second place with 18 percent of the Republican primary vote and was backed by Braun. Micah Beckwith, a pastor from Noblesville who came in third place, has been mentioned as a possible candidate as well. The other 2020 candidates garnered less than 7 percent of the primary vote and would be less likely to mount serious campaigns.

At least one Republican outside of Hamilton County is weighing a bid. The Herald Bulletin reported that Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings is “strongly considering a campaign.” 

And one of the GOP’s most high-profile candidates last cycle, Air Force veteran Jennifer-Ruth Green, is in the mix of potential candidates too. After conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt tweeted that Green, who ran against Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan in the 1st, should run for the 5th, she responded that she was “humbled and appreciative.” 

But Indiana Republicans are skeptical that she would want to move several hours outside of her home in northwest Indiana — and noted that she actually has stronger ties to the open 3rd District, since her Indiana Air National Guard assignment is in Fort Wayne. Green hasn’t ruled out running for either district.

Indiana’s Hottest Club 
With the primary field still taking shape, it’s far too early to determine how much outside money this race will draw. But there’s a decent chance that the Club for Growth, a key player in Indiana's Senate race, could get involved with both open congressional seats in Indiana.

The anti-tax group has a mixed record in the 5th. With the support of the Club, former Rep. David McIntosh came very close to representing this seat 10 years ago. Brooks defeated him by just over 1,000 votes in the 2012 Republican primary. 

Eight years later, the Club — now with McIntosh at the helm — was more successful in Indiana’s 5th. The group backed Spartz, a founding member of the Hamilton County Tea Party, in the 2020 primary, airing ads attacking her primary opponents Carl Brizzi and Henderson. The Club ultimately spent $2.7 million for Spartz during the primary and the competitive general election, more than any other GOP outside group.

This district is unlikely to be competitive in the general election, and so the GOP primary will likely choose the next lawmaker from the area. If the 2024 field is as packed as it was in 2020, the race for the Republican nomination could quickly become contentious.