Kounalakis announces 2026 bid for Calif. Governor

The Golden State’s lieutenant governor would be California’s first woman governor if elected.

California’s lieutenant governor is officially eyeing the top job in the Golden State and wasting little time to get prepared. 

Eleni Kounalakis launched her 2026 campaign for California Governor on Monday, hoping to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom when he terms out of office. 


The big picture: Kounalakis, a Democrat, told Politico that she will open a campaign committee, where she will move the $4.4 million that she already has in her lieutenant governor campaign committee. 

  • She would be the first woman elected as California Governor if she wins in three years. Kounalakis is the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor in California history. 

The backstory: Kounalakis was first elected lieutenant governor in 2018, defeating fellow Democrat Edward Hernandez by 13 points in the general election. 

  • She built on her 2018 performance in her 2022 reelection bid with a victory of nearly 20 points, cementing herself in the stepping-stone position that is lieutenant governor through 2026. 
  • Before she was elected, Kounalakis served as the United States Ambassador to Hungary from 2010-2013. 
  • Kounalakis’s private-sector career centered on her leadership at AKT Development Corporation, the real estate firm that her father started. 

What we’re watching: While her announcement comes three years ahead of the election, it puts her as the first in what will inevitably be a long list of candidates hoping to replace Newsom. 

  • Attorney General Rob Bonta and Toni Atkins (D–San Diego), the President pro Tempore of the California State Senate, could be two other high-level Democrats eyeing the position. 
  • Another race for Kounalakis to watch is the race to replace Senator Dianne Feinstein in the 2024 election. Reps. Katie Porter (D–Irvine), Adam Schiff (D–Los Angeles) and Barbara Lee (D–Oakland) could shift their campaigns to the gubernatorial seat if they fail to secure election to the Senate. 

What they’re saying: Kounalakis announced her candidacy to replace Newsom on Twitter Monday morning. 

  • “My family & I owe everything to our state,” Kounalakis wrote. “I will fight fiercely to make sure EVERY Californian has the chance to walk the path of the CA dream just like I have.”
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