Before a rising Republican political star came to Indiana to endorse his prosecutor friend, Susan Brooks was 20 points down in the GOP primary race for an Indiana House seat.
Then in mid-April, Chris Christie traveled to Fishers, Ind., and changed the game.
Brooks, a former Indiana U.S. Attorney, was behind in the crowded field of seven candidates in Indiana’s 5th Congressional District Republican primary. At Christie’s endorsement event in Indiana, the Brooks campaign hauled in a whopping $100,000 in contributions and closed the point gap. The 51-year-old Brooks came out victorious in a photo finish last week, defeating her chief rival, former Rep. David McIntosh, by just a little more than 850 votes.
“Because we knew each other and worked together, it was not just that I brought someone in who is viewed as a rock star in the party,” Brooks told Main Justice, “I brought in a friend.”
Christie, an old friend from his time as New Jersey U.S. Attorney, stumped for Brooks at two fundraising events on April 16, all the while batting back questions from reporters about a potential vice presidential nod from presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. The Brooks campaign and local political analysts concur that Christie’s endorsement may have generated just the right amount of buzz to send Brooks to the top of the leader board.
“When he came in we had just completed polling, and Susan was probably 20 points behind the leader at the time,” Dollyne Pettingill Sherman, the campaign communications director, told Main Justice. “That was really a turning point for the campaign — Gov. Christie’s visit was very important.”
On top of the $100,000 Christie helped the campaign bring in in one day, it sparked media interest in the race. “It put her over the top and closed that gap,” Pettingill Sherman said.
News outlets got whiff of Christie’s trip and flocked to the story, placing attention on the previously under-the-radar Indiana candidate. All eyes had been trained on the Indiana Senate race, with Sen. Dick Lugar — the state’s longest serving senator — ultimately losing to tea party-backed challenger Richard Mourdock.
“She won by 800 votes. Was [Christie's endorsement] worth 800 votes in the 30,000 she got?” said local political analyist Brian Howey. “I don’t know you could make that case, but it might have.”
Brooks said last summer when she was mulling over the idea of running for retiring Rep. Dan Burton’s seat, she contacted a few old friends from her federal prosecutor days. Christie told her he would be glad to help her in whatever ways he could, including a little advice about timing. Because most people don’t start paying attention to elections until a few weeks prior voting day, Christie recommended he come close to the end of the primary race, giving Brooks a surge into the last leg of the campaign.
“It was a huge boost to the campaign and wonderful to get that kind of media attention,” Brooks said of Christie’s visit. “It really did fire up my supporters.”
Brooks and Christie are among a special U.S. attorney class, in which top federal prosecutors were thrust into the positions just after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and national security was the top priority. The two also served on U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s advisory committee.
“We went through so much together after 9/11,” Brooks said. “Attorney General Ashcroft worked very hard to make us a very solid team of people who worked together and relied each other.”
Brooks noted that she and about 20 other U.S. Attorneys from that class traveled to Trenton for Christie’s swearing in as governor in 2010.
Brooks, who also served as deputy mayor of Indianapolis, reached out to Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.), a fellow former U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia, to ask him “if he felt like he was making a difference.”
“I was very frustrated as an observer,” she said. “But he said he felt like he was making a difference, but that it was very hard work there.”
With the advice from Meehan and the media boost from Christie, Brooks is now likely to sail to victory in the heavily Republican 5th District.
Brian Howey, an Indiana-based political analyst, said that while the monetary boost seems to have been helpful to the Brooks campaign, it was the media attention that really pushed her over the edge.
There were numerous reporters from political websites, blogs and major TV and radio stations on the ground covering the April 16 event, he said.
“I think one of the things that Chris Christie did was he accentuated her role as U.S. Attorney,” Howey said. “People probably heard her name before but he articulated her resume.”
It’s a substantial one, Howey noted. Brooks, in addition to serving as U.S. Attorney, has also worked as the deputy mayor of Indianapolis and is now general counsel and a senior vice president for Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana.
Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies at Indiana University, said it’s clear that the race came down to a media battle.
“The Christie endorsement matters because he is perceived to be a national figure in the Republican party with strong support from a variety of wings in the party,” Lenkwosky, who previously served in the George W. Bush administration as head of the AmeriCorps program, said.
Deborah Daniels, Brooks’ predecessor in the U.S. Attorney’s office and former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, worked as a volunteer on her colleague’s campaign.
Daniels, who is also the sister of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), said on top of the needed boost to her name recognition, Christie helped energize Brooks’ campaign volunteers. He told them to “leave no stone un-turned, no door un-knocked and no calls un-made,” Daniels said.
“Aside from working extremely hard, which she did, one of the things Gov. Christie’s endorsement did for her was lend her some additional credibility and call attention to her cadidacy,” Daniels said.
Daniels, who is now a partner at Krieg DeVault in Indianapolis, said the mentions of her prosecuting chops also helped. ”During her service she was strong, forceful and, as she should be, apolitical,” the former assistant attorney general said.
Now, as Brooks looks to the general election in November, she is taking some time off to rest and spend time with her family. But in reflecting on the break-neck race this primary season, she said it “means the world” to her that Christie took some time to support a friend.
“I don’t have nearly the charisma that Chris has,” Brooks said, laughing. “But I hope to have the same results that he has. He has also shown me that when someone becomes that powerful and important like Chris, he still remembers his friends.”