Indiana’s 5th Congressional District solidified its status as a Republican stronghold of 27 years. Over the decades, IN-05 found itself caught up in national conspiracies ranging from deep ties to pharmaceutical interests to foreign assets. There is little reason to believe Victoria Spartz’s victory will be anything but a continuation of the past.
However, Christina Hale’s nationally spotlighted campaign reflects the growing dissatisfaction among suburban conservatives. Most importantly, it demonstrates the power Hoosiers hold over elected officials.
A closer look at IN-05
Indiana’s 5th Congressional District is home to more than 791,000 residents. More than 84% of them are white. The median household income is $76,000, the highest of the nine congressional districts in Indiana.
International Agendas Meet Local Politicians
Stephen Buyer represented IN-05 from 1993 to 2003 and later represented IN-04. He served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee responsible in part for regulating the health care market.
Buyer chose not to seek reelection in 2010 after Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington launched a probe into his nonprofit, the Frontier Foundation. He created the foundation to provide educational funds to Indiana students.
The watchdog group filed the complaint over possible ethics and federal tax violations. At the time, the foundation raised approximately $880,000 — pharmaceutical companies alone donated $385,000 — and did not award a single scholarship. The complaint was later dismissed.
Buyer went on to work as a tobacco lobbyist for Reynolds American which donated more than $130,000 to his campaign and foundation.
The Bahrain American Council footed the $20,000 bill for Burton and his wife’s trip to Bahrain to meet with the crown prince in 2012. Burton later returned to the House floor and praised the government of Bahrain for its crackdown on Arab Spring protesters.
Policy Impact Communications, a lobbying firm, created the Bahrain American Council in 2011 to promote relations between Bahrain and Washington. Members of Congress are prohibited from accepting travel funds from lobbyists, but the Bahrain American Council did not have any lobbyists on payroll. The nonprofit did, however, share an office with Policy Impact Communications on K Street. Policy Impact exploited a loophole to compensate elected officials through a nonprofit channel and placed Indiana in the spotlight.
Burton accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from foreign donors both before and during his time representing IN-05.
Spartz’s candidacy promises a similar legacy tainted by interest groups.
As a state senator representing Noblesville, Spartz tried to quietly gut a gun reform bill following the Noblesville West Middle School shooting in 2018. The bill ultimately passed with bipartisan support but Spartz gained a powerful ally in the process — the National Rifle Association.
Spartz touted her endorsement from the NRA during her recent campaign cycle. One of Spartz’s most popular primary ads pictured her walking through a field with a rifle over her shoulder as the NRA endorsement appeared on screen.
What IN-05’s competitive race means
Hale would have been the first Democratic candidate to represent IN-05 since 1993.
Legislation to aid victims of sexual assault and protect children from violence characterized her four years as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives. Expanding access to affordable health care, investing in public education and improving clean energy infrastructure were among her top priorities if elected to Congress.
For Hoosiers who have long viewed local and state politics as a lost cause, Hale’s competitive campaign represents a change in the tone surrounding Indiana politics.
Spartz belongs to a far-right faction of the Republican party and created a sour relationship with Republican mayors throughout her time in the Indiana Senate. Spartz does not embody the suburban conservatism on display in Indiana’s 5th District, which draws in fiscally conservative but socially liberal moderates. Spartz’s campaign isolates the very individuals who make up the heart of IN-05.
I doubt Indiana will ever become a pinnacle of progressive policy. The real point is that Republicans would be foolish to bask in the same comfort they once enjoyed in Indiana.
The close race in IN-05 should prove to Democrats their vote is far from null and void even in an overwhelmingly conservative state. It is a wake up call for Republicans that the new GOP alienates the heart of suburban America. The party risks losing a key part of its base if it fails to respond accordingly.
Katelyn Balakir (she/her) is a junior studying policy analysis and world political systems. She is a member of Indiana Model United Nations.