Indiana Rep. Burton Goes Out on His Own Terms

Nathan L. Gonzales January 31, 2012 · 1:24 PM EDT

Dan Burton was unlikely to return to Congress next year; it was just a question of whether he would lose in the primary or retire. Today, the 15-term congressman from Indiana announced his retirement and avoided the very real potential that he would end his political career with a defeat.

Burton’s decision sets up a competitive race between former Rep. David McIntosh and former U.S. attorney Susan Brooks for the GOP nomination in eastern Indiana’s 5th District. Former Marion County coroner John McGoff (who previously lost to Burton in primaries) and attorney Jack Lugar are also in the race.

The filing deadline is not until February 10 for the May primary so other candidates could still get in. State Rep. Mike Delph, who is close to Burton and announced the congressman’s retirement decision from the floor of the state House, could get in now that the Burton isn’t running.

McIntosh had about $300,000 in the bank at the end of September while Brooks showed $325,000 at the end of the year. McGoff had $98,000 and Lugar $822 on hand at the end of December. McIntosh has until the end of the day to file their year-end reports.

Even though he’s a former Member of Congress, McIntosh is not guaranteed to win the primary. He’s been a lobbyist in Washington for the past decade, and some GOP sources believe he could be outshined by Brooks on the campaign trail when it comes to charisma.

Burton narrowly won the 2010 primary with 29.7 percent against six other candidates. Former state Rep. Luke Messer finished two points behind Burton in the race and is regarded as the frontrunner in the neighboring 6th District, vacated by Rep. Mike Pence (R), who is running for governor.

Even though there was a chance Burton could have benefitted, again, from multiple challengers dividing the vote against him, his re-nomination was far from a certainty. He only represents about two-thirds of the redrawn 5th District, which is now more compact after giving up all or parts of four northern counties (some of Burton’s best territory) as well as two southern counties. It adds Blackford and Madison counties from the 6th District on the eastern boundary.

State Rep. Scott Reske and labor union activist Tony Long are running on the Democratic side, but the heavily-Republican district is not at risk of a partisan takeover.

John McCain won the redrawn district with 53 percent in 2008, four points more than he received statewide, and George W. Bush won it with 59 percent in 2004. The 5th District remains Currently Safe for Republicans, and may even be safer without a long-time incumbent for Democrats to run against.