Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of this term, his 15th.
The longtime lawmaker, who has served in the House since 1983, was expected to face a tough reelection fight this year.
Burton, however, said during his farewell address at the Indiana state Capitol that health concerns were the driving force behind his retirement, rather than concerns about the primary.
“It’s a different district, one that’s not as Burton-friendly as the current district is,” said Ed Feigenbaum, editor of Indiana Legislative Insight. “He’s got some very credible primary opponents who’ve raised a good deal of money, and he hasn’t been fundraising.”
In the House, Burton has been a passionate advocate in fighting autism, suggesting that vaccines that contain thimerosal contribute to the spread of the disease. That position put him at odds with Eli Lilly and Co., a major employer in his district and the company responsible for developing thimerosal, according to The Washington Post.
Burton caucused with the Tea Party and served as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the 1990s, launching repeated probes into then-President Clinton’s campaign finances. Burton was among Clinton’s loudest critics, repeatedly suggesting that Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster did not commit suicide.
In a now-legendary incident, Burton brought reporters to his backyard, where he shot a pumpkin in an effort to prove that Foster could not have committed suicide. Multiple investigations concluded that Foster did, in fact, kill himself.
Burton’s exit will lead to a hard-fought GOP primary. Already in the race are county coroner John McGoff, who nearly beat him in 2008 and ran again in 2010, former U.S. Attorney Susan Brooks and former Rep. David McIntosh (Ind.). Brooks and McIntosh are off to strong fundraising starts, while McGoff has a grassroots organization left over from his previous runs.
“There are a lot of Republicans who’ve felt for a while that it’s their time — they wanted to run,” said Feigenbaum. “There’s a lot of pent-up ambition.”
Burton has endorsed Newt Gingrich in the GOP presidential fight, campaigning for the former House Speaker in Florida earlier this week and warning that the country could not afford another four years of President Obama.
“He is a socialist,” Burton said of the president, according to Newsmax. “He is taking this country down the socialist path, and we have to change it or America will be changed forever, in the wrong way.”
Burton argued that Gingrich is best able to take on Obama in the presidential debates.
“We need a fighter, someone who will go toe-to-toe with Obama and take him down, and Newt Gingrich is the best debater I know, and in a face-to-face with [Gingrich], Obama will have no chance,” he said.