In a surprise, Indiana Rep. Victoria Spartz announced Friday that she would not run for re-election or for any other office in 2024, a move that opens up the two-term Republican’s newly-gerrymandered 5th District in the northern Indianapolis suburbs. While five other House members had already declared that they’re leaving the lower chamber to run for the Senate, Spartz is the first to decide to outright retire.
The congresswoman had expressed interest in a bid for the state’s open Senate seat herself as recently as Tuesday, but she said days later, “[B]eing a working mom is tough and I need to spend more time with my two high school girls back home.” Her decision also makes it more likely that her colleague, hardline Rep. Jim Banks, will win that Senate primary without any serious intra-party opposition.
Spartz’s departure comes after Republican mapmakers did everything they could to make sure that she’d hold her seat against any Democratic comers. The last version of the 5th District started the last decade as safely red turf, but Donald Trump’s toxicity in the suburbs made it considerably more competitive.
The legislature responded in 2021 by stripping out the bluer areas closest to Indianapolis and replacing them with rural red turf far from the city, a gerrymander that augmented Trump’s margin of victory from just 50-48 all the way to 57-41 and all but ensures that the eventual Republican nominee won’t need to go through the kind of tough 2020 general election that Spartz did.
Spartz’s decision ends a fairly short but eventful career. The Ukraine-born politician earned elected office in 2017 without being elected after local Republicans chose her to fill a vacancy in the state Senate for a term that didn’t expire until the end of 2020. Spartz was on the ballot for a different office that year, though, as she joined a packed GOP primary to succeed Rep. Susan Brooks, who herself had unexpectedly announced that she would retire from Congress.
Spartz had the backing of the deep-pocketed Club for Growth and enjoyed a financial edge over the rest of the field. One of her rivals, businesswoman Beth Henderson, tried to hobble the frontrunner late in the race with a xenophobic and misogynist ad that emphasized Spartz’s thick Ukrainian accent and showed the dark outline of a woman gazing at a large Soviet flag on a nearby building and the text "VICTORIA'S SECRET." It wasn’t enough, though, to stop Spartz from beating Henderson 40-18.
Former state Rep. Christina Hale made a serious effort to flip this seat for the Democrats in the fall, and major outside groups on both sides poured millions into the general election. However, the area wasn’t quite willing to shake off its longtime Republican loyalties, and Spartz prevailed 50-46.
The freshman made a name for herself after Russia invaded her homeland, an attack she castigated as a “genocide of the Ukrainian people.” Spartz, though, enraged Ukraine’s government when she accused President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of “playing politics with people's lives” and attacked one of his top officials. Ukraine’s government said of the congresswoman’s comments, “They are an undisclosed attempt to bring back into American politics classic narratives of Russian propaganda about Ukraine’s leadership’s seeming ties to Russia and to drag our state into US domestic politics.”
Spartz also attracted unfavorable attention after several of her former aides told Politico she verbally abused her staff. “That’s the common theme: Staffers do their job, and then Victoria comes in saying that they have no idea what they’re doing, that they are morons, calling them ‘idiots,’” said one person about the congresswoman who experienced more personnel turnover in 2021 than any House member other than Devin Nunes. Spartz wasn’t at all sorry and argued it was her staff that had to get tougher.
Spartz had no trouble winning re-election in 2022 to what was now a safely red seat, but she soon made trouble for her party’s leadership when she switched her speaker vote from Kevin McCarthy to “present” during the fourth ballot. The congresswoman explained, “I’m still supporting him, but ultimately, he needs to be able to address the concerns of other people.”
She eventually returned to the fold, though she caused more headaches weeks later when she initially said she opposed throwing Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar off the Foreign Affairs Committee. Spartz brought up her votes in the previous Congress against booting far-right Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar off their panels, saying, “As I spoke against it on the House floor two years ago, I will not support this charade again.” Spartz, though fell in line just two days before she announced her retirement.