Obama victory throws spotlight on Sebelius

Kansas, Arizona governors considered VP candidates

? The veep sweeps are in full buzz, and there’s increasing chatter surrounding two rising Democratic stars – Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, two potential running mates who could help Barack Obama woo female voters.

Both are well-regarded within national Democratic circles for winning two terms in states that traditionally lean Republican. They’re seen as serious contenders for the No. 2 spot because Democrats worry Obama’s presidential-primary victory has alienated supporters of his chief rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Democrats in Sebelius’ and Napolitano’s states have been chattering about their prospects – with trepidation in some cases – though neither governor has said much herself.

“I have an interest in being governor of Arizona,” Napolitano said Wednesday. “He’ll look, I’m sure, at a number of possibilities. The Democratic bench is a very deep one.”

Sebelius was in her Statehouse office Wednesday, interviewing judge candidates and holding meetings. In a statement, she acknowledged she’s had regular contacts with Obama’s campaign and the candidate himself.

But she said, “There has been no discussion from the Obama campaign with me or anyone else on my team about serving as vice president.”

Both governors have downsides, including that each would have a tough time drawing her state into the Democrats’ column come November.

Peter Fenn, a Democratic media consultant in Washington, said Obama also would face a natural question from Clinton’s supporters if he considers putting Sebelius, Napolitano or another woman on the ticket: “Why didn’t you take Hillary?”

Obama’s campaign wasn’t dropping any hints Wednesday about who his running mate might be. Clinton said in a conference call with her congressional delegation Tuesday that she is “open to it” if it helps Democrats.

Several former primary rivals also have been mentioned for the vice presidential nomination, including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Other possibilities include Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and former Sen. Sam Nunn.

Sebelius, 60, and Napolitano, 50, won their first terms as governor in 2002, and there’s been buzz about both in party circles ever since.

Don Bivens, Arizona’s Democratic chairman, sees Napolitano as qualified, but “I personally would like her to stay as governor for the state and potentially run for Senate down the line.”

Under Arizona law, Napolitano would have to resign if she runs with Obama, a prospect that makes the Legislature’s Democratic minority nervous. Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, would succeed her.

Sebelius has had a higher profile than Napolitano. She served a year as chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association – a group Bill Clinton once led – and gave the party’s response in January to President Bush’s last State of the Union address. She was profiled in the February issue of Vogue and even photographed for it in an Oscar de la Renta dress.

Obama won Kansas’ caucuses handily. Sebelius has campaigned for him since then, most notably in Ohio, where her father, John Gilligan, was governor from 1971-75.

Larry Gates, chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said Sebelius hasn’t been pursuing the vice presidency.

“She’s always been extremely interested in completing her term,” Gates said. “No one could ever say ‘no’ to an invitation. She hasn’t told me that, but I just think no one in her right mind could say no to that invitation, if offered.”

Party leaders have portrayed Sebelius as successful in courting moderate GOP and independent voters, but she has drawn vocal opposition in Kansas over her support for abortion rights.

Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political scientist who once advised Sebelius, said she’s an attractive candidate for working and low-income women and, because of her background, understands the politics of Rust Belt states.

“On the other hand, she probably can’t deliver her own state and has no track record for making the big speech,” Loomis said.