By JOHN MILBURN
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday she will endorse Democrat Barack Obama for president, giving the candidate a Super Tuesday boost.
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 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 were already backing Obama. Sebelius said Obama had the ability to bridge generations for the betterment of the country.
"I think he represents the kind of leader that we need for the future of the country," Sebelius said. "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."
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.
Dan Lykins, the state Democratic Party treasurer and co-chairman of Clinton's Kansas campaign, said he doesn't think Sebelius' endorsement will have much of an effect even though "the press will make a big deal out of it."
"It's just going to be who's going to work the hardest and get their people out," Lykins said. "What really counts is not who endorses someone, but who gets out and votes in the caucuses and a lot of them have already made up their minds."
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.
Obama's campaign has paid an unusual amount of attention to Kansas, opening an office in Lawrence in October and bringing 18 staffers to this traditionally Republican state.
Sebelius has won two terms by wooing moderate Republicans and independent voters. Obama hopes to do the same in Kansas, which a Democratic presidential candidate hasn't won since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Democrats will have caucuses at 50 sites on Super Tuesday to split up 32 of their 41 delegates to Democratic National Convention this summer in Denver. Sebelius is one of the remaining nine delegates who will represent the state.
Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton opened campaign offices earlier this month in Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita and has three paid staffers in Kansas. Also, her state steering committee includes Joan Wagnon, Sebelius' secretary of revenue.