by Brian Jessen
I don’t think that were many people who expected to see Susan Brooks come out as the top vote getter in the 5th District Crowded Primary earlier this month. And to be honest, I was one who thought she’d finish a distant third.
Think about it. Zero name ID in many parts of the new district. A first-time candidate. She didn’t do well in early candidate nights and debates across the District. And let’s face it; American voters do not really like sending women to Congress. Women hold 73 seats (16.8%) of the 435 seats in Congress. In addition, three women also serve as Delegates to the House from Guam, the Virgin Islands and Washington, DC.
Susan Brooks did not appear to be a formidable candidate.
And I think that’s the way she wanted it. Most polling data several weeks out showed Brooks in the third of fourth place, with McIntosh in the lead. Dr. John McGoff was catching up. And Wayne Seybold was hoping for a May surprise.
Let me add some background here. I served as John McGoff Communications Director so I was privy to some polling data collected by several reputable campaign groups from throughout the county. Some hired by McIntosh, some hired by McGoff. Data all showing Brooks as a non-factor.
So a ground game started. Both McIntosh and McGoff hit the ground with volunteers going door to door. Brooks continued having small “mixers” and coffees while starting well late in the door to door game.
Then the mail came. Brooks and McGoff took shots at McIntosh about his record in Congress and let’s not forget about the residency issue he continued to ignore. It seemed like Brooks was sending out a card a day within the last two weeks. Then Election Day came. Both McGoff and McIntosh felt confident.
I didn’t think much was wrong until at about 10 a.m., my wife called. She was working a polling location in Whitestown for Richard Mourdock. She told me there were three women working the poll for Susan Brooks. Whitestown? All of our data showed all the top precincts. They included Zionsville, but none in Whitestown. Let alone this particular precinct was not one that called for three volunteers?
As the day moved along, these women connected with the people that came and voted. Neighbors, friends, people from around the area. Surprisingly as the people left, they confirmed that they had showed up to vote for Susan.
From the information I have been able to gather from conversations, Susan Brooks built a network. Her friends spoke highly of her. And they did to everyone that they could find. Brooks built a core group of support that came out to vote; 900 more supporters than McIntosh had with all the name ID he seemed to be able to bring.
McIntosh had multiple commercials running, along with a direct mail campaign. McGoff did the same, along with PAC support. But all that didn’t matter. Susan Brooks was able to do the one thing that all candidates struggle to do: connect in a personal way with voters. She overcame low name ID and an onslaught of negative campaigning to win the GOP nomination. We all could learn a lesson from her style.
Jessen is the Vice President of Front Porch Strategies located in Brownsburg.