As longtime readers know, I'm kinda weird when it comes to things I am fascinated by. the Electoral College, Richard Nixon, the French and Indian War, nuclear power, conspiracy theories, and so on.* So, to add to this list, I am always intrigued when politicians from (shall we say) less-populated states get into a position of power, especially if that person personifies that state.
I was reminded of this when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was brought before congress a few days ago and the committee proceeded to make a bunch of awkward Wizard of Oz references to her (Sebelius is from Kansas, you see).
American politics is odd in that it's from these smaller states that a lot of high-ranking politicians emerge. There are several reasons for that: smaller states tend to vote overwhelmingly for one party or another (Democratic in New England and the Pacific Northwest, Republican in the Midwest and west), so politicians stay forever and build up seniority. In addition, the competition for the limelight in big states is expensive and fierce.
So there's something endearing when, say, a Senator from South Dakota gets the Presidential nomination (George McGovern) or, historically, Senators like William Borah (Idaho), Scoop Jackson (Washington State) or Paul Laxalt from then-tiny Nevada become nationally known. They tend to be Senators, of course; the one place where small states are constitutionally bound to shine beyond their influence is the Senate, where their numbers and (theoretical) importance is on par with the big boys.
Of course, being a big name for a small state isn't always the best. There's the practical reason that running a small state isn't particularly challenging, at least when compared to, say, running New York State or California. Small states also have a fairly small pool of people who know each other, as both Bill Clinton (in 1992, you couldn't go a week without a security agent, hairdresser, or waitress talking about what went down in Little Rock) and Sarah Palin found out.
Of course, some small states really don't feel that small. Massachusetts and Arkansas are both fairly small, but they've produced a lot of solid candidates for President in the last decade or so. And while the South has a lot of smallish states, the culture is so permeated throughout the region it just doesn't have the same charm as, say, a cold New England governor or a dusty Rocky Mountain Senator.
So who knows where the next political phenom will come from? I've got my eyes on you, Montana.
*I totally just typed "fascinated by" into the search bar on the right to make that list. I could go on, although most of them involve Pop Tarts.