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Pete Buttigieg 'is a terrific candidate,' says longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett, a longtime adviser to former President Barack Obama, weighed in on the 2020 presidential race in a new interview, calling 37-year-old South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg a “terrific candidate” and predicting that former Vice President Joe Biden would “make a compelling case” on the campaign trail.

Biden, who has drawn scrutiny in recent days over physical contact with several women that they said made them uncomfortable, has not yet declared his candidacy.

Jarrett said she was “impressed” by a statement Biden released last weekend in response to an allegation brought by Nevada politician Lucy Flores. In the statement, Biden acknowledged the importance of women coming forward but did not apologize for his conduct.

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg greets voters during a campaign stop at Portsmouth Gas Light in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, U.S., March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

“Everyone who wants to run for office should run for office,” Jarrett said of Biden’s potential candidacy. “That's part of the magic of our democracy: You get in there and you get to try to earn the confidence of the American people.”

Jarrett made the comments to Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a conversation that aired on Yahoo Finance in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

A senior adviser to President Barack Obama over both his terms, Jarrett met Barack and Michelle Obama in the 1990s when Jarrett was a deputy chief of staff to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. After leaving Daley’s administration in 1995, Jarrett spent more than a decade as an executive for real estate firm The Habitat Company, which named her CEO in 2007.

Soon after, Jarrett joined Obama’s presidential campaign as a senior adviser, and she served in that role over both of Obama’s presidential terms. She remains an adviser to the Obama Foundation, and sits on the board of ride-hailing company Lyft and 2U, an education software company.

Buttigieg has ‘caught fire’

Jarrett praised Buttigieg, calling him a “terrific candidate” who has “caught fire.”

“There are a lot of people who had never heard of him a year ago who have been caught up,” says Jarrett, whose book, “Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward,” was released this month.

Buttigieg became South Bend’s youngest mayor when he took office at age 29. In 2014, he took a leave of absence from office to serve a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan, and remained a U.S. Naval Reserve officer until 2017. He would be the first openly gay president.

Jarrett said she met Buttigieg over the course of her work with the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Obama administration, which required her to collaborate with mayors nationwide.

“I'm very prejudiced about loving mayors and what they do,” she says. “The economic engine of our country is our cities.”

Buttigieg surged to third place in a survey of likely Iowa caucusgoers released by Emerson Polling less than two weeks ago. Drawing support from 11% of those surveyed, Buttigieg placed behind only Biden, at 25%, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, at 24%.

Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance.

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