Krish Vignarajah, who was a policy adviser to former first lady Michelle Obama, officially launched her gubernatorial campaign Tuesday, including a stop at the University of Maryland's College Democrats meeting.
Vignarajah kicked off her campaign with a three-day road trip across Maryland starting Monday and going until Wednesday, according to a news release.
Vignarajah talked about where the Democratic Party has room to improve.
"One of the pitfalls we've fallen into recently is that we are often times just against something," she said to the crowd of at least 50 attendees. "It is wonderful to be a part of the resistance … but the truth is that as a Democrat, we frankly owe more than that. We need to actually to put forth an affirmative agenda."
And three of the main items on hers are education, the economy and the environment.
"What I'm trying to do in terms of my campaign is to pick issues that are of critical national importance that don't get as much attention as they should," she said.
An immigrant from Sri Lanka, Vignarajah came to Maryland with her family at nine months old and went through the Maryland public school system. She plans to prioritize children's "cradle to career" education, starting with universal preschool at 3 years old, and she wants to provide free community college to all students and reduce student loans.
The Gaithersburg Democrat also served as a senior adviser at the State Department under Secretaries John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. As first lady Michelle Obama's policy director, she led the "Let Girls Learn" initiative, which began in 2015 and aims to address challenges keeping young girls from getting a quality education.
"You may be asking the question, 'Is she as cool as she seems?' The answer to that is she's actually cooler," Vignarajah said of Obama.
Vignarajah called Republican Gov. Larry Hogan "a formidable opponent."
"We all know that. He plays his politics very well," she said. "He fakes left, then moves to the right." She added that he "has failed to show leadership," citing his veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would increase renewable energy usage in the state.
But Vignarajah was far more critical of President Trump, calling his election "the apocalypse."
"I own the mantle of being Donald Trump's worst nightmare, and I will frankly tell you that it is a badge of honor that I am not sure I can say I've ever received in the past," she said.
Christopher Walkup, a public policy graduate student, said he was "pleasantly surprised" by Vignarajah's speech.
"She really hit the points that I'm most passionate about when it comes to progressive organizing," he said. "I can't say that I'll be voting for her … but this made her, in my mind, a much more serious candidate."
Vignarajah's campaign in a race dominated by male candidates resonated with some of the meeting's attendees.
"She's a fresh face," senior government and politics major Tisya Mavuram said. "We definitely need new voices in Maryland politics, especially because she's young, she's a woman of color. I'm Indian-American, so that speaks to me."