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First on CNN: Pete Buttigieg nabs endorsement from New York Rep. Kathleen Rice

New York Rep. Kathleen Rice is backing Pete Buttigieg for president, she told CNN, giving the South Bend, Indiana, mayor his third congressional endorsement.

The endorsement, Buttigieg’s second in the past two days, comes as the Democratic presidential candidate has surged to the top of the field in Iowa and has seen his poll numbers rise in New Hampshire. Despite his improved standing in the race, Buttigieg still lags behind his top competitors in congressional endorsements.

Rice said in an interview on Monday that she is backing Buttigieg for the Democratic nomination because he is the “only candidate whose message is focused on addressing both our long term and short-term challenges that we face.”

“The thing that I admire about him is that he’s done it not by over promising things and pandering to the base and he doesn’t use divisive rhetoric or my way or the highway approach,” Rice said, in a thinly veiled swipe at Buttigieg’s more progressive competitors like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. “He’s really demonstrated an unmatched ability and a willingness to reach voters where they are from across the political spectrum.”

Rice told CNN’s Bianna Golodryga on “CNN Right Now” Buttigieg “gives a message that resonates with everyone across this country.”

“And if we made one mistake as Democrats in 2016, it was only speaking to people in certain parts of the country. We forgot about a whole group of people in the middle of country who were not hearing candidates talk about issues that mattered to them,” Rice said. “He knows how to speak to people, he knows how to address their issues, and he’s doing that on a national scale that I think is going to resonate with more and more voters the more he gets his message out there.”

Rice had initially backed former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and spoke glowingly of the former presidential candidate on Monday. But when the Texas Democrat ended his campaign earlier this month, Rice said she saw it as a “logical” decision to back the mayor.

Rice, who represents portions of Long Island, was once one of Nancy Pelosi’s most outspoken critics, arguing that the caucus needed “generational change” in leadership when Pelosi was seeking the House speakership last fall.

It’s a familiar argument for Buttigieg, who makes it often on the campaign trail to subtly knock his competitors and argue against the President.

“We have to be a party and a nation that looks to the future for our solutions, not to the past,” Rice said. “I want a candidate who can bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to Washington. I think Pete’s that voice.”

Buttigieg’s first congressional endorsement came in April, when Virginia Rep. Don Beyer backed the mayor, comparing him to former President Barack Obama, a candidate he endorsed early in 2008. The mayor picked up a second congressional endorsement on Monday, when Indiana Rep. Pete Visclosky, who is retiring after this term, endorsed him.

“I’ve known Mayor Pete Buttigieg for nearly a decade. I’ve seen him stand with organized labor and have admired his successful record of creating economic opportunities for working families against great odds,” Visclosky said. “It gives me great pride to endorse Pete Buttigieg for President of the United States.”

Rice said shortly after Visclosky’s statement that she believes more members of Congress will be backing Buttigieg soon.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” she said, “that there are going to be more people like me who get behind Mayor Pete. There’s no question.”

CNN