Can he win Kansas?

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., waves during a campaign stop Saturday in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Obama visited Puerto Rico ahead of the June 1 primary.

On Feb. 5, thousands of Kansans braved a wet snow and long lines to pack Democratic Party caucus sites and deliver an overwhelming victory to Barack Obama.

Four days later, Kansas Republicans held their caucuses.

Even though Republican registered voters far outnumber Democrats in Kansas, the turnout was approximately half of the Democratic caucus. And the GOP winner by a more than 2-to-1 margin in Kansas was Mike Huckabee, despite the fact that John McCain was on his way to securing the nomination.

So could Obama move red state Kansas into the blue Democratic column in the November general election?

If Obama won Kansas, it would be another historic note to his candidacy and probably would signal a Democratic tidal wave.

“When Kansas goes Democratic in a presidential election is when Hell will go Methodist,” quipped Wichita State University political science professor Mel Kahn.

The last time a Democratic presidential candidate won Kansas was in 1964 when President Johnson defeated Republican Barry Goldwater in a national landslide. Before that, it was when Kansans preferred Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936 over then-Kansas Gov. Alf Landon.

President Bush eked out two national victories in 2000 and 2004, but in Kansas he had a cakewalk, defeating Democrat Al Gore in 2000 by 58 percent to 37 percent, and increasing that margin in 2004 against John Kerry, 62 percent to 36 percent.

Not surprisingly, political party officials in Kansas disagree on whether Obama or McCain will win the state.

Jenny Davidson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Democratic Party, said Obama has a chance to win because his run has ignited voters in Kansas.

“He has activated people looking for change,” Davidson said.

Republicans, she said, have chosen a “Bush clone” in McCain.

And, she said, McCain cost Kansas 4,000 jobs. She was referring to the Air Force’s recent decision to award a $35 billion aerial-tanker contract to a partnership with ties to France’s Airbus, rejecting a bid by rival Boeing, which had planned final assembly and testing of planes in Wichita. McCain’s critics say he helped pave the way for Airbus in 2003 when Congress approved his amendment allowing the Pentagon to buy military equipment from foreign companies.

But Kris Kobach, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said Democrats were “suffering buyer’s remorse” in selecting Obama.

“The concerns by these Democrats regarding Obama’s naivete, fundamental lack of judgment and failure to lead on issues that matter most to Americans will not fade,” he said.

Other factors, however, in Obama’s favor are his family and political connections to Kansas. His mother was born in Kansas. And politically, Obama has received strong support from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, who has been mentioned as a possible running mate.

Wichita State’s Kahn said these factors will probably result in Obama getting more votes in Kansas than either Kerry or Gore received, but that he will still not be able to win the state. A SurveyUSA tracking poll released last week backs up Kahn, saying that McCain has a 10-point edge in Kansas. With Sebelius as the vice presidential candidate, he still wouldn’t win, according to the poll.

“He has a chance (to win), but it’s an outside chance,” Kahn said.

Dan Watkins, a Lawrence attorney and senior adviser to Obama’s Kansas campaign, said McCain “will be difficult to beat” in Kansas but the Obama camp will make him earn it.

“He expands the playing field,” Watkins said of Obama. “I believe Obama will continue the 50-state strategy, whether a state is targeted or not.” But, he conceded, “This is not a battleground state.”