Democratic activist Annette Johnson was in the room when gubernatorial candidate John Gregg announced Christina Hale as his running mate.
Johnson cheered the decision.
Now, she said, she has a ready answer for other African-Americans who ask: “Why should I vote for John Gregg?”
Kenneth Allen had a similar response.
He’d worried that his community of Lake County — with a 45 percent minority population — wouldn’t deliver the high turnout that Gregg needs in a red state to beat Republican incumbent Gov. Mike Pence.
“She’s the missing piece of the puzzle,” he said.
Since 2004, every Democratic gubernatorial ticket has included a man and woman. Republicans have followed a similar tradition — until this year, when Pence nudged Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann out of office, replacing her with new running mate Eric Holcomb.
But Hale appears to bring more to the ticket than gender.
At 44, the two-term legislator from Indianapolis represents a “new school” Democrat. She’s young, urban, progressive and a Cuban-American.
In her 2012 run for Legislature as a political novice, she beat an incumbent Republican — no easy task in this state.
Hale is a contrast to the conservative, rural, white Gregg, who at 61 is best known in political circles for the years he spent as House Speaker.
“It’s the balance we need,” said Bryan Chatfield, an African-American from Indianapolis.
Chatfield, 36, was recruited by Hale into the state party’s Emerging Leaders Project — a year-long program that mentors up-and-coming Democrats with potential for elected office. Chatfield said he was “ecstatic” when he heard Hale was the pick.
“She’s so relatable,” he said, using a word repeated by others in the crowd at the Indianapolis Artsgarden for Wednesday’s announcement.
In describing Hale, Gregg talked about her across-the-aisle work on legislation, including a measure helping victims of sexual assault.
He noted she was endorsed by the AFL-CIO and Indiana Chamber of Commerce when she sought re-election in 2014.
When Hale took the podium, she told of a more embarrassing part of her past — that of being an unwed, pregnant teenager.
Those closest to her, she said, told her to put away her dreams.
She didn’t. She kept the baby; her son, Owen, was at Wednesday’s announcement along with the husband she later met and married.
She would go on to college and a successful career as head of global communications for the service group Kiwanis International.
“No matter what happens in life, you have to keep moving forward,” she said.
Will her presence on the ticket matter?
“The reality is lieutenant governors don’t attract a whole lot of votes themselves,” said Andy Downs, head of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne. “But they can be incredibly useful.”
And this race is expected to be close.
Gregg narrowly lost to Pence in 2012. Recent polls show he’s behind this time by just a few points — but ahead in support from women, young voters and people with college degrees.
Four years ago, Gregg promoted himself on the campaign trail as a folksy ol’ boy from the small southern Indiana town of Sandborn.
“For a lot of progressive Democrats, using the word ‘moderate’ to describe John Gregg was too liberal a description,” Downs said.
Downs, too, used the word “relatable” when describing Hale.
And, key for Democrats, perhaps she is someone who can push reluctant voters into the arms of Gregg.
Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for CNHI newspapers. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.