Topeka Democratic congressional leaders announced Tuesday that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will deliver their party's response after President Bush's State of the Union Address later this month.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Harry Reid of Nevada praised Sebelius' bipartisan work "to create jobs, grow the economy, make historic investments in education, and make college more affordable."
This is an audition of sorts, observers say, and could be an opportunity for her to be showcased for a national office.
Sebelius will give her speech live from Cedar Crest, the governor's residence, after Bush's address on Jan. 28, which will be his last State of the Union.
Sebelius said she was honored to have the opportunity to share with the nation how Kansans have worked together.
"These are extraordinary times, both at home and abroad," Sebelius said.
"To meet those challenges, the American people expect their leaders to resolve their differences and put partisanship on the back burner," she said.
Kansas politicians and observers said Sebelius' selection to carry the Democratic message showed her political ascendancy.
"She has definitely arrived on the national scene," said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka.
Hensley said Sebelius is a serious contender in 2010 for the U.S. Senate seat expected to be vacated by U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., or a presidential cabinet position if a Democrat wins the White House.
Hensley said it's not outside the realm of possibility to think that Sebelius might some day run for president.
Sebelius, a Democrat who has always been able to attract Republican voters, routinely deflects questions about her political future. Re-elected in 2006, Sebelius' term as governor will expire after 2010.
Allan Cigler, a political science professor at Kansas University, said the selection of Sebelius shows that Democrats have confidence in her, especially during an election year.
"A year like this is more important than most. The address sets an agenda that the Democrats are going to run under," Cigler said.
Sebelius' spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said the governor will write the speech with her Kansas staff. "She made sure before she accepted that she'd control and write it - not D.C.," Corcoran said.
Cigler also noted that the speech gives Sebelius some time with a national audience.
"In many ways you are auditioning to be thought of for higher things," he said. Sebelius also will serve as one of the three co-chairwomen of the Democratic Party's national convention in August in Denver. She also just finished a stint as chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association.
Kris Kobach, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said Sebelius was picked to deliver the Democratic response for political reasons.
"It's a win-win for Democratic leaders in Congress and Sebelius," Kobach said. "She gets the national stage she has been craving so long, and Pelosi and Reid get this image of a Midwesterner representing the party."
But state Senate President Steve Morris, a Republican from Hugoton, said he was glad a Kansan would be getting national airtime.
"It makes us all look good," he said.