For Gov. Sebelius, There's No Place Like Home

Kathleen Sebelius, seen as a candidate for any number of positions in the Obama administration, is remaining governor of Kansas for now.
Kathleen Sebelius, seen as a candidate for any number of positions in the Obama administration, is remaining governor of Kansas for now. (By Dick Whipple -- Associated Press)

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By Chris Cillizza
Monday, December 8, 2008

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has been among the most mentioned politicians when it comes to a slot in the administration of President-elect Barack Obama. She has been rumored to be under consideration to head the departments of Labor, Energy and Agriculture, among other jobs.

So when Sebelius took herself out of consideration for Obama's Cabinet in a statement released by her office Saturday, the political world was taken by surprise.

"Given the extraordinary budget challenges facing our state and my commitment to continuing the progress we've made in Kansas, I believe it is important to continue my service as governor of the great state of Kansas," Sebelius said in the statement.

Will Sebelius's abrupt decision to step away from the national stage stop speculation about her political future? Not by a long shot.

With Sen. Sam Brownback (R) planning to retire from the Senate to return to Kansas to run for governor, expect national Democrats to push Sebelius hard to consider a run for the open seat. She is term-limited out of the governor's mansion in 2010 and would clearly be the strongest potential candidate for Democrats.

Republican Rep. Jerry Moran is already an announced candidate for the Senate opening, and Rep. Todd Tiahrt is expected to join the race as well.

If Sebelius does run, she will be running against much political history; Kansas has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932.

The Tattered GOP Label

Republican political svengali Karl Rove famously -- and successfully -- broke with traditional political logic in 2004 by focusing President Bush's reelection campaign on GOP base voters instead of swing voters. Rather than tailor a message aimed at courting independents and moderates, Bush and his team spent almost all their time talking to and turning out the Republican base.

A new analysis of the 2008 election by Alex Gage, a leading adviser to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, suggests that such a Republican-base-oriented strategy may well prove ineffective in future elections.

"Obviously the GOP brand image has been damaged and the Republican Party has become less attractive and appealing to the electorate," Gage wrote. "The tarnished brand image of the Republican Party resulted in significant erosion of market share over the last eight years."

As evidence, Gage cites Gallup pre-election polling from 2004 and 2008. Four years ago, 36 percent of the electorate described itself as Republican, compared with 34 percent who said they were Democrats and 29 percent who called themselves independents. Compare that with Gallup's pre-election poll in 2008, in which self-identified Democrats made up 36 percent of the electorate, independents 35 percent and Republicans 28 percent.

While the percentage of Democrats in the electorate between 2004 and 2008 stayed steady, the Republican share dropped by eight percentage points and the independent share increased by six points. According to Gage, the decline in Republican self-identifiers meant that John McCain's base had 6.2 million fewer voters in it than Bush's 2004 base. "No longer would an electoral strategy focused on mobilizing the base produce a winning national coalition," Gage concludes.

But , not all the news for Republicans is bad, Gage argues, noting that a significant (and steady) bloc of voters describe themselves as conservatives. Exit polling in 2008 put the number of self-identified conservatives at 34 percent, unchanged from the 2004 election.

The difference between a Republican victory in 2004 and an across-the-board defeat in 2008? McCain took 78 percent of the vote among conservatives, five points less than Bush received four years earlier. McCain's share of the vote also declined among moderates (44 percent for Bush, 39 percent for McCain) and liberals (13 percent Bush, 10 percent McCain) -- a sign, Gage argues, that the 2008 election marked not a fundamental change in the electorate but rather a failure by the GOP to make it clear to voters what it means to be a Republican.

"The chatter about a structural party realignment and the Republican Party on the verge of becoming a marginalized and permanent majority party has been exaggerated," Gage wrote. "There are truly significant patterns and trends that warrant concern and must be addressed by the Republican Party but reports of the demise of the Republican Party are certainly premature."

Tracy Sefl, a confidante of former Democratic National Committee chairman -- and soon-to-be Virginia gubernatorial candidate -- Terry McAuliffe, is leaving the Glover Park Group to start the brand-new bipartisan practice at Navigators Global in the District. Sefl will be a senior vice president at the firm, a public relations and consulting company with ties to prominent California-based Republicans including Mike Murphy and Rob Stutzman. "They've shared with me an exciting plan for growth, and I'm flattered that I'll be able to bring a Democratic perspective to the table -- we all agree that's key to thriving in the new political climate," Sefl said.

43 DAYS: Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States. How many millions of people will be on hand to witness history?

184 DAYS: McAuliffe, state Rep. Brian Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds will square off in Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary -- the marquee race of early days of 2009.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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