IOWA CITY — Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius publicly considered the possibility that Sen. Barack Obama’s race might be a factor in this year’s presidential election during an appearance here Tuesday.
“Have any of you noticed that Barack Obama is part African-American?” Sebelius asked in response to a question about why the election is so close. “That may be a factor. All the code language, all that doesn’t show up in the polls. And that may be a factor for some people.”
The remark, delivered in the governor’s low key, folksy, out-from-behind-the-podium style, raised a couple chuckles but few eyebrows in the downtown Iowa City crowd, but Republicans took offense and responded in short order.
“Governor Sebelius’s remarks in Iowa City today are hurtful and divisive at best,” said Republican Party of Iowa Executive Director Caleb Hunter in a press release. “With less than 50 days to go, Democrats will continue to try and change the focus away from the issues that will decide this election.”
The rest of Sebelius’ remarks in Iowa City stuck closely to the Obama campaign’s talking points.
“The bottom line question is, do you think George Bush has been a wonderful president?” she told an audience whose questions focused as much on the horse race as on specific issues.
One questioner argued that Obama was under-performing in polls because young voters with cell phones were under-reported, and Sebelius agreed. “I have a 24 year old and a 27 year old and they’ve never had a land-line since they went to college,” she said. “So they don’t show up in polls. But they need to show up at the polls.”
Yet at each turn, Sebelius tried to return the dialogue to bread and butter issues, to the delight of Bob Elliott, a former member of Iowa City’s city council and a leading local supporter of Sen. Joe Biden during the Iowa caucuses.
“Lipstick can stay home! Talk about the issues!” he shouted, in apparent reference to another governor.
During a brief press availability, Sebelius said she didn’t know much about her Alaska colleague. “She’s one of our new governors, and I’ve met her at a couple of events that all the governors were at,” she said of GOP vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. “But we’ve really had no personal interaction. The real issue is John McCain vs. Barack Obama, and their policies could not be more different.”
Sebelius responded to criticism from Kansas Republicans about her campaign visits, and implied that the campaigning went hand in hand with her job.
“I can do a much better job as governor of Kansas, and Chet Culver can do a much better job in Iowa, if we have a partner in the White House instead of an adversary.”