Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, credited with revitalizing the Kansas Democratic Party, trounced her Republican opponent Tuesday, leading a surge that saw Democrats recapture a second Kansas congressional seat and turn out an incumbent Republican attorney general.
Sebelius was defeating Republican Jim Barnett 58 percent to 41 percent with 3,187 of 3,290 percents reporting.
"This really is about moving the state forward, and Kansans just made a big vote for progress," Sebelius said.
The victory caps a steady rise by Sebelius, 58, in Kansas politics from House member to insurance commissioner to second-term governor.
And Sebelius' ability to win elections and raise record amounts of campaign cash as a member of the minority Democratic Party in Kansas has gained national attention.
Former House Speaker Kent Glasscock, a Manhattan Republican, said: "The truth is Kathleen Sebelius has a large presence in the state of Kansas and has absolutely remade the Democratic Party during the course of the last four years."
For Barnett, 52, a physician and state senator from Emporia, the defeat was predicted by polls that showed him behind throughout the campaign.
Earlier in the evening, Barnett said Kansans would be looking for leadership from Sebelius.
"If the problems aren't solved, I'm going to do whatever I can to help the people of Kansas."
Sebelius said she would focus on education, health care and the economy during her second four-year term.
Barnett campaigned on a theme that the Kansas economy was lagging, the new school funding bill would drive the state into debt and Sebelius was soft on illegal immigration.
Once considered a moderate Republican, Barnett turned to the right wing of the party and selected conservative state Sen. Susan Wagle of Wichita as his lieutenant governor running mate.
After winning a weak seven-candidate field in the Republican Party primary, Barnett's campaign never got on track.
Good economic news undermined Barnett's claims, and Sebelius touted her budget efficiencies and defended the school funding plan as an affordable, sound investment in the future.
Sebelius outraised and outspent Barnett at least $5 million to $1 million. She swamped the airwaves with television ads that portrayed her as a leader on economic and social issues.
Current House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, who had considered running for governor but then dropped out, said Sebelius' money advantage was too big of a hurdle for Barnett.
"Sebelius had plenty of money early and was able to define herself. Barnett never had the resources to define himself," Mays said.
The contest also was largely overshadowed by the raucous race for Kansas attorney general.
Sebelius' ability to lure moderate Republican voters and raise large amounts of campaign donations probably kept stronger Republican candidates from running against her.
This year, she recruited former Kansas Republican Party Chairman Mark Parkinson to switch parties and run as her lieutenant governor candidate.
Before introducing Sebelius to a festive crowd at the Democratic Party celebration, Parkinson held up a copy of Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas?"
"Tonight, there's nothing the matter with Kansas," Parkinson said.
As governor, Sebelius survived numerous political minefields during the past four years.
When she took office, state government was broke because of the recession. Through cuts, efficiencies, borrowing and bookkeeping adjustments, she was able to cobble together balanced budgets until the economy recovered.
She was a key player in the 2005 special session on school finance, avoiding a showdown with the Kansas Supreme Court. Earlier this year, when the court accepted the Legislature's new school funding proposal, Sebelius became the "school bus driver" in campaign ads.
Republicans often criticized her for taking credit for their heavy lifting.
When she won her first term in 2002, she became only the second female elected governor in Kansas. The first was Joan Finney in 1990, who did not seek re-election.
In the 2002 campaign, Sebelius defeated Republican Tim Shallenburger, a conservative Republican who is now chairman of the state GOP.
Sebelius was born and reared in a political family in Ohio, and then married into one in Kansas.
Her father, John Gilligan, served in Congress and was a one-term governor of Ohio.
Gilligan was at the Kansas Democratic Party event Tuesday, saying that Democratic success in Kansas would be a "bellwether" for the rest of the country.
Sebelius was educated in Catholic schools and later met and married a Kansan, Gary Sebelius, whose father was a longtime congressman in Kansas. The couple moved to Topeka and reared two sons.
Sebelius soon got involved in local and state politics.
She won a state House race in 1986. In 1994, Sebelius left the House to run for insurance commissioner and stunned Kansas political observers by becoming the first Democrat to win the office in more than 100 years. She won re-election to that post in 1998.
Barnett will return to the state Senate, where he has served since 2000. Prior to winning a Senate seat, Barnett was on the Emporia school board.
This year he crossed swords with Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.
It was Barnett who revealed that Morris had talked with Kansas Supreme Court Justice Lawton Nuss about the then-pending school finance lawsuit.
The incident led to an unprecedented investigation of Nuss that resulted in a warning against the justice.