WASHINGTON – Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, considered one of the Democratic Party's rising stars, has been chosen to deliver the Democratic response to President Bush's annual State of the Union Address on Jan. 28.
The nationally televised speech offers Sebelius the widest audience she has ever reached and gives her party a chance to showcase a Democrat who has figured out how to win in a traditionally Republican state.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised Sebelius in a joint statement as "a forward-thinking, solutions-oriented Democratic leader."
"Her record of accomplishment in Kansas is evidence of what can be achieved when leaders reach across the aisle on behalf of all Americans," the statement from Reid and Pelosi said.
In her second term, Sebelius has generated national buzz by winning back-to-back elections and drawing support from moderate Republicans. She has been mentioned in national publications as a possible vice presidential nominee or pick for a Cabinet post in a future Democratic administration.
She is also widely believed to have her eye on running for the U.S. Senate in 2010, when incumbent Republican Sen. Sam Brownback's latest term is up. Brownback has said he will abide by a term-limits pledge and not seek another term.
In a statement, Sebelius said Americans "expect their leaders to resolve their differences and put partisanship on the back burner."
"They demand leadership focused squarely on solving our problems, making the most of our opportunities and moving America forward," Sebelius said. "That is exactly the kind of leadership we've demonstrated in Kansas and I am honored to share that example with the American people in response to the president's State of the Union message."
Sebelius served recently as chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association. She helped raise money for Democratic candidates in three Southern governor's races in 2007 and is recruiting candidates to run for 11 other governor's races this year.
She has declined to endorse any of the Democratic presidential candidates so far.
Kansas GOP Chairman Kris Kobach said the choice shows that Democrats "are grateful for her catering to national Democratic concerns" as opposed to what's best for the state.
"I think it's the culmination of a long series of events where Governor Sebelius has been auditioning for a job on the national stage for quite some time," Kobach said.
But Kansas Democratic Party chairman Larry Gates said the address would "give the rest of the country the opportunity to see what Kansans see every day — a leader not afraid to work across party lines to get things done."
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a close friend of Sebelius, called her "a perfect choice" to deliver the response.
"She has the perfect blend of vision and common sense and is a very popular governor in a very red state," said McCaskill, a Democrat. "She will be a great Democratic voice for the country to hear."