By Pamela Wood
Krish Vignarajah, a former policy director for First Lady Michelle Obama, is the latest Democrat to join Maryland's gubernatorial race.
Vignarajah said Wednesday she'll kick off her campaign in September. She is the first woman to announce a run for governor.
The Montgomery County resident said she's getting into the race because she is worried her newborn daughter won't have the same opportunities she had.
Vignarajah, who also worked as an adviser at the State Department, said she was encouraged to run after making several speeches about her work in Washington that were well-received.
"There was a lot of enthusiasm for my message and my perspective on what we should be doing," she said. "I really do think that there is a lack of fresh voices and new ideas, and that's where I think I will bring new insight."
Vignarajah said her "personal narrative" is an antithesis to the rhetoric from President Donald J. Trump and is a message that can inspire Democrats.
"We live in a day where the president of our country thinks everything I am is what's wrong with America," she said. "I'm a woman. I'm a minority. I'm an immigrant and I'm a new mom. I think each of those aspects of my identity provides a valuable perspective that will color and shape what I talk about on the campaign trail."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Vignarajah declined to discuss specific policy ideas, saying she would save those conversations until after the public launch of her campaign Sept. 19.
Questions emerged Wednesday as to whether Vignarajah meets Maryland's requirements to run for governor, including living in the state and being a registered voter for five years. Vignarajah said she registered to vote in Maryland as early as she was able, and she acknowledged she also registered to vote in Washington, D.C., in 2010 and last voted there in 2014.
Vignarajah said she never voted in more than one place at a time, and believes that being registered to vote in two locations does not present a legal barrier to running for governor. She compared questions about her eligibility to Trump's past claims that President Barack Obama wasn't a U.S. citizen.
"I feel like I'm under the same attack President Obama faced," she said.
She registered a campaign finance committee with the state on Wednesday, and also unveiled a website and social media accounts.
While at the White House, Vignarajah said she led Obama's "Let Girls Learn" initiative. She also has worked as a lawyer and holds a bachelor's degree from Yale College, studied at Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar and attended Yale Law School. She graduated from Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County.
Vignarajah, 37, is the daughter of career educators who immigrated to Maryland from Sri Lanka when she was 9 months old. She lives in Gaithersburg with her husband and daughter.
Several Democrats have lined up for a chance to take a shot at Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has not yet publicly launched a re-election campaign.
The Democrats who have launched campaigns include: Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, former NAACP leader Ben Jealous, state Sen. Richard Madaleno, tech entrepreneur Alec Ross and Jim Shea, former chairman of the Venable law firm.
Vignarajah will draw attention to her candidacy because she is the first woman to enter the race, but she'll have to do more to win over voters, political observers said.
Todd Eberly, an assistant professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland, said Vignarajah likely falls on the progressive end of the political spectrum -- but he said it's hard to tell based on her basic campaign website and modest social media presence.
"She's less known, so it would have done them well to populate that website," Eberly said. "There are going to be a lot of people Googling her today."
Melissa Deckman, chairwoman of Washington College's political science department, said Vignarajah is among a wave of Democratic women inspired to run for public office following frustration with Trump.
"She basically represents everything Trump is not," said Deckman, who researches women in politics. "She is young, she is the daughter of immigrants. She worked for the Obama administration and the Obamas are extremely popular in Maryland."
Deckman said she'll be watching to see whether Vignarajah can translate her ties to the Obamas and status as the only woman in the race into a viable campaign.
"She's largely unknown. Can she raise money? That's a big question mark," Deckman said.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, a policy consultant from Baltimore, is the only other woman who has said she's exploring a run. Rockeymoore Cummings is married to U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Other Democrats considering a run include Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and former state Attorney General Doug Gansler.
U.S. Rep. John Delaney, who many observers thought might consider a run for governor, instead announced he plans to run for president in 2020.
The primary election will be held next June.
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