Facing at least three strong opponents for renomination, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) announced Jan. 31 he was not running for re-election after all. The 73-year-old Burton, who has been the first and only congressman from the Hoosier State’s 5th District since it was first carved in 1982, cited family health problems as his reason for retiring but did not elaborate.
If there was any surprise about Burton’s exodus, it was the timing. Renominated in a crowded primary two years ago, Burton just eked out first place by a margin of 30 percent to 28 percent over former State Rep. and fellow conservative Luke Messer. This year, he had insisted for weeks he was running again, even as the number of challengers in the May primary increased.
While sporting a conservative voting record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 97.16 percent) and respected for his strong pursuit of the Whitewater affair while House Government Reform Committee chairman during the Clinton years, Burton had his problems. There was a perception among constituents that the golf-loving congressman was not working hard and, in fact, Burton’s missing a key vote reportedly cost him the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he very much wanted. Burton was also the lone House Member to oppose a new set of ethics rules for lawmakers.
Following his narrow renomination in 2010, Republican state legislators weakened Burton’s base of support in the 5th District by moving several rural counties near Fort Wayne out of the 5th District. The counties had always supported Burton and were critical to his surviving primary challenges in ’08 and ’10.
2010 runner-up Messer found himself in the neighboring Sixth District of Republican Rep. Mike Pence, who is leaving Congress to run for governor of Indiana. Messer is now considered the odds-on favorite to win the open House district. In the 5th District, former 6th District Rep. and 2000 gubernatorial nominee David McIntosh is seeking the Republican nomination, as are former federal prosecutor Susan Brooks and former Marion County Coroner John McGoff (who was in the 2010 primary against Burton).