By Katie Reilly
January 19, 2016

Presidential candidates from both parties used Martin Luther King Jr. Day over the long holiday weekend to connect the legacy of the civil rights leader to their own campaign messages and policy proposals. Here’s how some of them did it.

Hillary Clinton

The Democratic presidential candidate marched in Charleston, S.C., on Monday and spoke on the steps of the statehouse, where she commended the removal of the Confederate flag and called for an end to gun violence.

“The spirit of those who came before should live within everyone who strives to uproot the systemic inequities that remain,” Clinton said.

“… If you want change, it starts with you. So on this Martin Luther King Day, as we remember this giant of history, let us also think of Sybrina Fulton and everyone who gets up every morning and takes a very deep breath and gets to work trying to make a difference in our country and in the world,” she said, mentioning Trayvon Martin’s mother, who endorsed Clinton for president.

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Bernie Sanders

Like the other two Democratic presidential contenders, Bernie Sanders mentioned King during the Democratic debate on Sunday and also spoke at the South Carolina statehouse on Monday.

“I wonder if Dr. King was with us today, what would he say about a nation in which the top one tenth of one percent own more wealth than the bottom 90%?” Sanders said.

Martin O’Malley:

In the Democratic debate on Sunday, O’Malley mentioned King as he spoke about the shooting at a historically black church in Charleston that left nine worshipers dead in June.

“I was born the year Dr. King delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. And I want to thank the people of South Carolina not only for hosting our debate here tonight, but also for what you taught all of us in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at Mother Emmanuel Church. You taught us in fact, in keeping with Dr. King’s teaching, that love would have the final word when you took down the Confederate flag from your state house, let go of the past, and move forward,” O’Malley said.

Donald Trump

In his speech at Liberty University, Trump dedicated what he said was a record-setting crowd to the civil rights leader.

“It’s an honor to be here, and especially on Martin Luther King Day. We broke the record—you know we had the record for about three or four years the last time, and the first thing I said to Jerry and Becki [Falwell] when I got here: ‘Did we break the record?’ They said, ‘Yes, you did, by quite a bit.’ So we’ll dedicate that to Martin Luther King, a great man. And that’s a little bit of an achievement, I will tell you.”

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Marco Rubio

Rubio released a statement commending King and the examples he set for the country.

“In the 21st century, we must follow the example set forth by Dr. King and expand the American Dream to ensure every American has access to equal opportunity,” Rubio said.

“On the Eve of his death, Dr. King stated, “We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” It is now in our hands to stand united and continue to make our nation a better place for future generations.”

Jeb Bush

Bush invoked King’s legacy as he unveiled his education plan on Monday, casting education as a civil rights issue and harkening back to his role as “education governor” of Florida.

“As the nation honors Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy today, I firmly believe that ensuring every individual has access to a quality education is the great civil rights challenge of our time,” Bush said.

Ted Cruz

Cruz used the holiday named for the civil rights leader to announce an endorsement by African-American Baptist minister Reverend CL Bryant.

“Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a man for whom I have the utmost admiration and respect,” Cruz said. “King’s persistent, patient campaign against injustice, his wisdom, and his legacy continue to inspire generations of Americans. Now more than ever, we must accept King’s challenge to give the world an example of harmony and brotherhood. I am honored to have the support of Reverend CL Bryant, a minister who loves freedom and challenges injustice with a passion urgently needed in our times. I look forward to his leadership in the African-American community as we rally against the disastrous policies of the left and toward a bright American future.”

Write to Katie Reilly at

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