Vice Presidential Profiles: Kathleen Sebelius (Gov-KS)

This is the third in our week-long series profiling the most likely vice presidential candidates. We’ve previously profiled Sen. Jim Webb and Gov. Ted Strickland.

One of the most buzzed about possibilities for the VP slot is Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Gov. Sebelius is a popular governor of a conservative state. She has a 61% approval rating in a state where Bush bested Kerry by 25 points. That approval rating makes her one of the most popular governors in the country, and there’s no doubt she’d be inclined to consider an offer given that Kansas term limits prevent her for running for governor again (her term expires at the end of 2010). Futhermore, she endorsed Obama, and would act as a salve to those who were hoping to see a woman at the top of the ticket. The ostensible ability to increase Obama’s pull among women is probably her strongest appeal, but this may be negated by the fact that Hillary Clinton is likely to campaign on behalf of Obama following the end of the primary season, and, despite the divide between the two camps now, one would imagine Clinton will be very effective at wooing women to the Democratic ticket.Sebelius_3

Gov. Sebelius has consistently proven her abilities as a campaigner. She began her career as a state representative before winning the position of insurance commissioner in 1994. That marked the first time a Democrat had won the seat in more than 100 years. During her tenure as insurance commissioner, she refused to take money from insurance companies, and blocked the merger of Blue Cross and Shield with an Indiana health insurance company. This provides Sebelius with instant credibility on health reform.

In 2006, Gov. Sebelius ran with Mark Parkinson, former chair of the Kansas Republican Party (and former Republican generally), as her lieutenant governor. This ties in well with Obama’s pledge to transcend the normal partisan divides. Gov. Sebelius, though personally opposed to abortion, has vetoed legislation that would tighten restrictions on the practice and use coercive tactics to try and sway a woman’s decision. She also opposed an amendment to the Kansas constitution that banned same-sex marriage, though she justified this by pointing to a similar law already on the books, which she felt was sufficient.

Sebelius has consistently stood firm in her opposition to the coal energy. While this may be an admirable position, and will certainly encourage Democrats who view Obama as weak on coal interests, it’s difficult to determine which voters you actually win by opposing coal. Voters who’d like to see stronger environmental stands from the candidates are unlikely to vote for McCain at any rate. I don’t foresee West Virginia going for Obama anyway, but Sebelius at the bottom of the ticket would pretty much guarantee the Democrats lose it. On principle I would love to see more honesty about the coal industry from our Democratic leaders, but in terms of strengthening a ticket, I don’t see how it would.

A particularly interesting statistic regarding Gov. Sebelius comes from a just released Rasmussen poll of the state:

Twenty-eight percent (28%) of Kansas voters are more likely to vote for Obama if Sebelius is on the ticket while 34% say they are less likely to vote for Obama with Sebelius as the Vice-Presidential candidate. Among unaffiliated voters, 30% are more likely and 31% less likely to vote for Obama if he picks the Kansas Governor as his running mate.

I can’t quite understand why a Sebelius VP candidacy does no better than break even, especially in her home state where she is overwhelmingly popular, and yet in this poll she turns away as many voters as she wins. This makes me seriously question her ability to draw additional voters to an Obama ticket, and might point to a general backlash against a ticket that features two political minorities.

At any rate, McCain currently leads Obama in Kansas by 21 points. It seems highly unlikely that this state will be in play come November even with Sebelius on the ticket, and while it is not necessary for a vice presidential candidate to put their state into play, we have a lot of strong contenders this cycle who very well could help win their home states. Moreover, Sebelius is probably the best candidate to run for the open Senate seat from Kansas in 2010, after Sen. Brownback retires. It’s quite conceivable that Sebelius could help us secure an additional senate seat out of a very red state. It would a great shame to waste her as a vice-presidential candidate, especially given that she’ll be hard pressed to run for president following an Obama administration; she’ll be 68 in 2016.

My ultimate opinion on Gov. Sebelius is that she’s better suited to a future senate seat in 2010 than she is to a vice presidential candidacy in 2008. The numbers don’t suggest that her addition to the ticket will add many voters to Obama’s column, but given her popularity within her home state, I can very well imagine her winning us an additional senate seat in two years.

Related posts:

  1. Vice Presidential Profiles: Ted Strickland (Gov-OH)
  2. Vice Presidential Profiles: Jim Webb (Sen-VA)
  3. Vice Presidential Profile: Mark Warner (Fmr. Gov-VA)
  4. Vice Presidential Profile: Claire McCaskill (Sen-MO)
  5. Vice Presidential Profile: Tim Kaine (Gov-VA)

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