California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis is endorsing Pete Buttigieg for president, giving him the backing of the second-highest statewide elected official.
“What I see in Pete Buttigieg is someone who is young, who is smart, who is a veteran who has served overseas representing our country,” Kounalakis told The Chronicle’s “It’s All Political” podcast Wednesday.
Buttigieg’s only experience in elective office was his two-term stint as mayor of South Bend, Ind., a city smaller than Antioch. Kounalakis, however, said that was no small accomplishment — she said Buttigieg had led “a small but feisty city into better things.”
She said Buttigieg’s experience as a naval intelligence officer shows that he “knows and understands what American power is and what it needs to be again.”
Kounalakis said she was looking for a “viable” candidate after her first choice, California Sen. Kamala Harris, dropped out in December. She said she saw that in Buttigieg when he emerged from the first two contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, atop the field with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Kounalakis conceded that she had “struggled” with her decision not to endorse one of the three women remaining in the race — Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
“The ability to convince people on the ground that you’re the right one — that’s not a small thing,” Kounalakis said. “Frankly, that motivated me even more to get out there, because I think (Buttigieg’s) success was minimized a little bit and marginalized.”