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Kamala Harris makes campaign stop in South Carolina at event hosted by her sorority

Kamala Harris kicks off campaign

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris said Friday night that "certainly there is the goal of winning," but a measure of her campaign's success will be that it "energizes and empowers people to actually participate and see themselves in the process." Harris' brief remarks, her first since announcing her presidential bid and held in the key primary state South Carolina, were held just hours after President Trump agreed to re-open the government. 

The California Democrat spoke at the annual "Pink Ice Gala" in Columbia, South Carolina, hosted by her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation's oldest black sorority. The sorority's influential network, which includes 300,000 members around the world, could be key in Harris' campaign. 

Harris honored the sorority's history in her remarks. 

"We stand on the shoulders of women, who were leaders, who 111 years ago said to us we must honor sisterhood and service," Harris said.

Harris, the first Alpha Kappa Alpha member to run for president, said, "My mother used to say you may be the first to do anything. Just make sure you're not the last."

Harris said Friday that her presidential run is not solely defined on winning the nomination and election, but also on inspiring others to participate in the democratic process.

Election 2020-Kamala Harris
California Sen. Kamala Harris appears at a fundraiser for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., of which she is a member, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019 in Columbia, S.C.  Meg Kinnard / AP

The visit marks her first trip to an early presidential primary state since announcing her presidential bid on Monday.

Other candidates and potential candidates, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and potential presidential candidates, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, also made stops in the Palmetto State this week. South Carolina is the fourth state in 2020 that will hold a Democratic nominating contest.

The visits to South Carolina will be a key test for candidates to see how their message resonates with African American voters, a key voting bloc of the Democratic Party. According to CBS News exit polling in 2016, 61 percent of the votes cast in South Carolina's Democratic primary were from African American voters.

Her campaign said that over 3,500 tickets were sold.

Harris pledged the sorority when she was an undergraduate student at Howard University, a historically black college and university (HBCU). Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright said these connections give Harris a "built-in infrastructure" around the state and country.  

More broadly, Seawright added that South Carolina will be the "test case for campaign infrastructure and campaign strategy" in order to see their viability in the presidential race.

"[Harris] understands that opportunity dances with those on the dance floor," Seawright noted. "I think she realizes that South Carolina is the political dance floor if you want to be the Democratic nominee and the 46th President of the United States." 

South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson said the trip by Harris indicates her commitment to her roots.

"It displays the significance of her connection with the African American community, African American women specifically," Robertson said. "There may be an opportunity there that she sees that a lot of other people don't see."

With multiple potential candidates in South Carolina this past week, Robertson said voters are looking for a candidate who is "authentic" and likened the growing presidential field to a "family" that has to be unified heading into the election.

"The fact is you're going to have those arguments and those fights when you have a big family," Robertson said. "But at the end the family comes together in order to survive and move forward."

Seawright noted that a potential obstacle for Harris is dependent on who else enters the presidential race and if she can maintain momentum through South Carolina's primary.

"She has to gain momentum until and through the South Carolina primary with all voters, but specifically voters of color," Seawright said.

Harris will travel to Des Moines, Iowa to participate in a CNN Town Hall on Monday.