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Democratic presidential hopefuls commemorate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday

Key Points
  • Sen. Kamala Harris launched her presidential campaign on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
  • Sens. Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders, two other likely Democratic presidential nominees, will attend an annual King rally in the capital of South Carolina.
  • Two other possible candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, will speak at a King holiday event in Washington.
  • Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, who have already opened exploratory committees, will appear at King-centered events. 

As Americans commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s contributions to the nation, Democratic presidential hopefuls are fanning out across the country to honor the civil rights leader.

Martin Luther King addresses crowds during the March On Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, where he gave his 'I Have A Dream' speech in 1963.
Central Press | Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., used the holiday to launch a presidential campaign that, if successful, would make her the first woman and the second black candidate to become president.

Meanwhile, an annual rally to observe King's birthday held in the capital of South Carolina, a critical early-voting state in the Democratic primary, will feature two senators expected to seek the White House in 2020, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who's weighing his own presidential bid, is set to speak at a King holiday event in Washington alongside former New York mayor and possible 2020 rival Michael Bloomberg. Two candidates who have already opened exploratory committees — Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York — will also appear at King-centered events.

While the Democratic field for 2020 is only beginning to take shape, the year that would have marked King's 90th birthday gives the party's prominent members a valuable opportunity to address race and, potentially, draw a contrast between their own views and those of President Donald Trump, whose approach to questions of racial justice has sparked criticism from multiple minority groups since he took office.

How Democratic contenders, both those officially in the race and those still mulling campaigns, celebrated the King holiday:

Kamala Harris

Harris, a first-term senator and former California attorney general known for her rigorous questioning of Trump's nominees, opened the holiday by declaring her bid on ABC's "Good Morning America." She abandoned the formality of launching an exploratory committee, instead going all in on a presidential campaign.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks to Amos Jackson III, Executive President of the Howard University Student Association, and Mara Peoples, Executive Vice President, after announcing her candidacy for President of the United States, at Howard University, her alma mater, on January 21, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Al Drago | Getty Images

"I love my country," she said when asked what qualifies her for the presidency. "And this is a moment in time that I feel a sense of responsibility to stand up and fight for the best of who we are. And that fight will always include, as one of the highest priorities, our national security."

Harris, 54, grew up in Oakland, California, a daughter of parents from Jamaica and India who were active in the civil rights movement.

King, she said, "was aspirational, like our country is aspirational. We know that we've not yet reached those ideals, but our strength is that we fight to reach those ideals. And that inspires me because it is true that we are a country that, yes, we are flawed, we are not perfect, but we are a great country when we think about the principles upon which we are founded."

Harris also cited her years as a prosecutor in asserting: "My entire career has been focused on keeping people safe. It is probably one of the things that motivates me more than anything else."

The senator plans a formal campaign launch in Oakland in a week and will have her headquarters in Baltimore. She's already planning her first trip to an early primary state as a declared candidate. On Friday, Harris will travel to South Carolina to attend the Pink Ice Gala in Columbia, which is hosted by a South Carolina chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which Harris pledged as an undergraduate student at Howard University. The sorority, founded more than 100 years ago, is a stronghold in the black community.

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Key Points
  • Bitter cold is setting in after a major winter storm blanketed a wide swath of the country in snow, sleet and rain this weekend.
  • The storm created dangerously icy conditions that promise to complicate cleanup efforts and make travel challenging on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
  • Wind chills will bring temperatures into teens in the New York City area and down to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius) in upstate New York, the National Weather Service predicted.