Kamala Harris, a California senator and former state attorney general, announced Monday that she is running for president, joining an ever-growing field of Democrats looking to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020.
Harris's announcement, on Good Morning America, was made on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a clear signal that her presidential run is likely to embrace her identity as a black woman. Her campaign’s logo, her staff said, is inspired by the logo of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president for a major party.
Harris’s time as a law enforcement official will also be central: Her campaign slogan, For the People, echoes the introduction made by prosecutors appearing in court.
"I am running for president of the United States, and I'm very excited about it," Harris said on Good Morning America. She added that she was "honored" to make that announcement on a day celebrating King's legacy.
Harris’s platform will focus on the rising cost of living for middle-class Americans, her campaign said, proposing rent credits and tax breaks for low-income and middle-class families, as well as on immigration and criminal justice reform.
Just two years into her Senate term, Harris, 54, rapidly made a name for herself on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where her sharp questioning of Trump administration officials evokes a hard-nosed, prosecutorial style. On Monday, she said she was confident in her local, state, and federal government experience.
"The American public wants a fighter, and they want someone that's going to fight like heck for them and not fight based on self-interest, and I'm prepared to do that," she said.
She has also thrown herself behind key progressive issues like single-payer health care, known as Medicare for All, tuition-free public college, and a pilot program that would test guaranteeing jobs to anyone who wants them. Her campaign said she will also reject corporate PAC contributions.
"Truth. Justice. Decency. Equality. Freedom. Democracy. These aren’t just words — they’re the values we as Americans cherish. And they’re all on the line now," Harris said in a video Monday morning. "The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values. That’s why I’m running for president of the United States."
The daughter of immigrant parents from Jamaica and India, Harris would be the first black woman to be nominated for president by a major party. In stump speeches and in policy, she has leaned into her identity as a woman of color, speaking candidly about the forces of racism and sexism and criticizing the rejection of “identity politics” by some Democrats.
In August, Harris introduced a bill to address disparities in maternal health care for black women, who face sharply higher risks of death and other pregnancy complications compared with white women.
If she can win strong support from black voters, particularly women, Harris could have an advantage in Southern states, which are likely to have a decisive role in the 2020 primary. Her first public appearance after her announcement will be in Columbia, South Carolina, an early-primary state with a mostly black electorate, at the gala of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which was the first Greek organization for black women. She plans to hold an official launch rally in Oakland, California, on Sunday.
In the Senate, Harris has defined herself with hardline positions on immigration, a key issue among Latino voters. Early last year, she was one of only three Democrats who voted against a bipartisan plan that would have opened a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants because it also included billions in funding for Trump’s border wall. She has called for “a complete overhaul” of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Her time as a criminal prosecutor, and later as California’s top law enforcement official, is likely to rankle some progressives. As district attorney in San Francisco and later as California's attorney general, Harris oversaw law enforcement agencies that critics have long said did little to root out police brutality and corruption. Her longtime vision of law enforcement as a strong force in American life butts against Black Lives Matter-era progressive arguments for reduced police presence on streets and in schools.
In the run-up to her presidential campaign, Harris has branded herself a “progressive prosecutor,” focusing on her office’s work on a program for low-level offenders and high-profile fights against for-profit colleges and the banks that caused the 2008 mortgage crisis. But critics have already pushed back against that characterization.
Asked about that criticism Monday, Harris said it was a "false choice to suggest that communities don't want law enforcement," saying they don't want excessive force or racial profiling but do want consequences for serious crimes and predatory behavior. "People want that, they want to know that our laws will be enforced, and they also rightly should expect that we recognize that our system of justice has been horribly flawed, and it needs to be reformed," she said. "We have a system of justice that has included systemic racism, we have a system of justice where a mother and father have to sit their child down, their son down when he becomes a teenager and tell him he may be stopped, he may be arrested, and he could be shot based on the color of his skin. There is a lot of work to do, but to suggest it's one or the other, no, I don't buy that."
On a visit to Iowa, the home of the first presidential caucus, before the midterm elections last year, Harris stoked an air of celebrity among prospective voters. But she so far lags behind some other prospective candidates in name recognition.
Harris is the third senator already to move forward with a presidential run, and several others are expected to soon join her. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York announced the formation of an exploratory committee last week, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced one on New Year's Eve.