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Home / Eleni Kounalakis

Lt. Gov. Kounalakis announces candidacy for governor in 2026 race

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis Monday declared her candidacy for governor in the 2026 election, seeking to be the first woman to hold the post.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is barred from running for reelection that year because of term limits.

“As a proud mother, daughter, advocate, and leader, I know the struggles Californians face and have the experience and grit to bring meaningful change to our state,” Kounalakis, 57, said on social media.

“I will fight fiercely to build a future where everyone — regardless of race, class, or immigration status — has the same opportunity that my family and I had.”

A Democrat, Kounalakis in 2018 became the first woman elected as California’s lieutenant governor, succeeding the man she is seeking to succeed as governor. She was reelected in November.

Mona Pasquil served as acting lieutenant governor between John Garamendi’s election to the House in a 2009 special election and Abel Maldonado’s confirmation in 2010 to be Garamendi’s successor.

Born March 3, 1966, in Sacramento, Kounalakis worked for her family’s Sacramento-based housing development firm, AKT Development, for 18 years, building master-planned communities. She was United States ambassador to Hungary from 2010-13 and a virtual fellow with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 2014-17, specializing in international trade and immigration.

Kounalakis also chaired the California Advisory Council for International Trade and Investment and was a member of California’s First 5 Commission and the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism.

Three women have been major party nominees for governor of California — Democrats Dianne Feinstein in 1990 and Kathleen Brown in 1994 and Republican Meg Whitman in 2010 — but all lost.

Kounalakis’ announcement came on the sixth anniversary of her announcement of her candidacy for lieutenant governor.

Two of California’s last four governors were lieutenant governor immediately before being elected governor. Gray Davis was lieutenant governor when he was elected governor in 1998.

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