Kamala Harris launches 2020 Democratic presidential bid

Kamala Harris, a first-term U.S. senator and former California attorney general known for her rigorous questioning of President Donald Trump's nominees, on Monday entered the Democratic presidential race.

Vowing to "bring our voices together," Harris aims to become the first woman and the second African-American to hold the presidency.

Harris, a daughter of immigrant parents who grew up in Oakland, Calif., is one of the earliest high-profile Democrats to join what is expected to be a crowded field.  She made her long anticipated announcement on ABC's Good Morning America.

"I am running for president of the United States," she said. "And I'm very excited about it."

The 54-year-old portrayed herself as a fighter for justice, decency and equality in a video distributed by her campaign as she announced her bid.

"They're the values we as Americans cherish, and they're all on the line now," Harris says in the video. "The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values."

Harris launched her presidential bid the same day the country observes what would have been the 90th birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The timing was a clear signal that the California lawmaker — who has joked she had a "stroller's-eye view" of the civil rights movement because her parents wheeled her and her sister Maya to protests — sees herself as another leader in that fight.

Wide-open race for Democratic nominee

Harris abandoned the formality of launching an exploratory committee, instead going all in on a presidential bid. She plans a formal campaign launch in Oakland on Jan. 27. The campaign will be based in Baltimore, Md., with a second office in Oakland.

She joins what is expected to be a wide open race for the Democratic presidential nomination. There's no apparent front-runner at this early stage and Harris will face off against several Senate colleagues.

Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have launched exploratory committees. Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are also looking at the race.

Harris, shown alongside New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker during a Senate judiciary committee hearing last year, is the second black woman to serve as a U.S. senator. (Tom Williams/Reuters)

If Booker enters, he and Harris could face a fierce competition for support from black voters.

Sen. Bernie Sanders,  who's from Vermont and unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Democratic nomination, is also considering a campaign. Several other Democrats have already declared their intentions, including former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and former Obama administration housing chief Julian Castro.

Harris launches her campaign fresh off of a tour to promote her latest memoir, The Truths We Hold, which was widely seen as setting the stage for a presidential bid.

Campaigning begins

Harris is already planning her first trip to an early primary state as a declared candidate. On Friday, she will travel to South Carolina, where black voters make up a large share of the Democratic electorate.

The state is likely to figure heavily into Harris's prospects. And early voting in Harris's home state of California will overlap with the traditional early nominating contests, which could give Harris a boost.

Harris's campaign team is already taking shape and includes several veterans of Democratic politics. Several former top Hillary Clinton campaign advisers will be among her staff.

Harris's staff says she plans to reject the assistance of a super PAC, as well as corporate PAC money. She's invested heavily in cultivating a digital, small-dollar donor network before her presidential bid.

Law enforcement record questioned

Before her 2016 victory in the Senate race, Harris made her career in law enforcement. She served as the district attorney in San Francisco before she was elected to serve as attorney general.

Harris is likely to face questions about her law enforcement record, particularly after the Black Lives Matter movement and activists across the country pushed for a criminal justice overhaul. Harris's prosecutorial record has recently come under new scrutiny after a blistering opinion piece in the New York Times criticized her repeated claim that she was a "progressive prosecutor" who was focused on changing a broken criminal justice system from within.

Fellow Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, shown here, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, along with Harris, are the three female members of the U.S. Senate who've entered the race for the Democratic nomination. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Harris addressed her law enforcement background in her book. She argued it was a "false choice" to decide between supporting the police and advocating for greater scrutiny of law enforcement.

She "knew that there was an important role on the inside, sitting at the table where the decisions were being made," she wrote. "When activists came marching and banging on the doors, I wanted to be on the other side to let them in."

Harris supported legislation that passed the Senate last year that overhauled the criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to sentencing rules.

Harris is framing her campaign through her courtroom experience. The theme of her nascent campaign is "Kamala Harris, for the people," the same words she spoke as a prosecutor, trying a case in the courtroom.

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