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John Zody, Indiana Democratic Party chair, shortly before the polls close on Election Day. Photo by LaMonte Richardson, TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Democrats offered a hopeful conversation ahead of Election Night returns, anticipating a change in the minority party’s favor in major congressional, statewide and legislative races.

“We’ve seen a realignment in the state,” Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said at the top of the program. He pointed to several key issues that have mobilized voters, the foremost being healthcare, which gained added prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic and because of ongoing challenges to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

COVID-19 emerged as a top issue in particular for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Woody Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner who oversaw Indiana’s approach to the AIDS epidemic.

“COVID-19 was truly the number one thing that people wanted to talk to us about,” said Brandon Evans, communications director for the Myers campaign. “They wanted to know what we would do differently, and how we would control the virus comparatively to Gov. Holcomb.”

The state set a record Tuesday for the most people hospitalized related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, one of several sharp increases in pandemic trends since Indiana entered Stage 5 of the Back on Track reopening plan. The Indiana State Department of Health reported 2,951 new cases of the virus Tuesday and 50 more deaths, for a total of 4,199 Hoosiers who have died since reporting began in March.

But it’s other issues that are driving voters to Democrats too, Zody and Democratic campaign leaders argued, including concerns about public education and the election of President Donald Trump.

Liane Groth Hulka, the Indiana Democratic Party’s chair of the state’s 5th Congressional District, said changes in Indiana’s suburbs has been an advantage for the Democrats. Her district is home to a nationally watched race between Republican Victoria Spartz and Democrat Christina Hale, both former member of the Indiana General Assembly.

“They’re ready for a change, in so many different areas,” Groth Hulka said.

As populations in the 5th district suburbs have grown, communities have diversified, and new candidates have entered politics with messages that speak to residents dissatisfied with Republican leadership, Groth Hulka said. She pointed to local municipalities like Zionsville that saw the election of Democratic leaders for the first time and to growing activism in the area.

Jeff Harris, representing Democratic attorney general candidate Jonathan Weinzapfel, said Hoosiers want to discuss big issues like protecting healthcare and legalizing marijuana, two topics of many that have defined Weinzapfel’s platform.

Like the campaign leaders, Zody said the 2016 election of President Donald Trump and his actions served as a “political wake-up call” for Hoosiers to either move to the Democratic party or enter politics themselves, as candidates or as activists and volunteers willing to support new campaigns.

With record-breaking turnout anticipated this election thanks to a historic increase in mail-in absentee voting and early voting, both likely consequences of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Zody also said the party expects more votes cast in their favor.

“When people vote in Indiana, Democrats will win,” Zody said.

This article originally appeared on TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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