TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president, a Super Tuesday boost in a GOP-leaning state that Democrats hope to reclaim in the White House campaign.
"I think he represents the kind of leader that we need for the future of the country," Sebelius told The Associated Press. "I think he brings the hope and optimism that we really need to restore our place in the world, as well as to bring this country together and really tackle the challenges that we have."
Her announcement came hours ahead of Obama's rally in El Dorado, the hometown of his grandfather on his mother's side, and one week before the Kansas caucuses, which are part of the multistate contests Feb. 5. Sebelius said she would attend the event to "welcome him back to Kansas and join the campaign."
Democratic presidential candidates long had sought Sebelius' backing in a state that George W. Bush carried by large margins in the 2000 and 2004 elections. No Democratic nominee for the White House has won Kansas' electoral votes since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
But Sebelius, now in her second term, has shown an ability to triumph in GOP territory. She won re-election in 2006 with nearly 58 percent of the vote. In Kansas, less than 27 percent of the voters are registered Democrats.
She said her two "20-something" sons and 86-year-old father, former Ohio Gov. John Gilligan, already were backing Obama, and that the Illinois senator had the ability to bridge generations for the betterment of the country.
Sebelius has taken the governor's office by wooing moderate Republicans and independent voters. Obama hopes to do the same in Kansas. Democrats will have caucuses at 50 sites on Super Tuesday to split up 32 of their 41 delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer in Denver. Sebelius is one of the remaining nine delegates who will represent the state.
For Obama, it was another in a string of high-profile endorsements in the past two days, following on those from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.; his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.; and Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President Kennedy.
The campaign of Obama's chief rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, sought to play down the impact of Sebelius' endorsement.
"It's just going to be who's going to work the hardest and get their people out," said Dan Lykins, the state Democratic Party treasurer and co-chairman of Clinton's Kansas campaign.
Sebelius has impressed Democrats nationally by election success, and party leaders let her give the Democratic response Monday night to Bush's State of the Union address.
She is coming off a year as head of the Democratic Governors Association, a group that Bill Clinton once led. The governor made Democrats' lists of potential vice presidential running mates for nominee John Kerry in 2004, and while there's less of the same talk this year, she is seen as possible Cabinet appointee in a Democratic administration.
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