— -- Barack Obama can trace his roots to the heart of the heartland -- and while there's no place like home, even family connections are unlikely to make the difference in Kansas.

Obama's mother was born in Kansas, a factoid he's played up in advertisements and on the stump as she seeks to highlight his cross-cultural, red-state appeal.

Yet that may be the extent to which Kansas is a battleground in 2008.

What's the matter? Notwithstanding some recent Democratic successes, Kansas remains solidly conservative, with a large rural vote and a high number of religious voters proving unwilling to vote Democratic at the national level. The state sits astride a sea of red, a near-certain six electoral votes for the McCain-Palin ticket.

Obama may have stood his best chance to make Kansas competitive if he had chosen Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, D-Kan., as his running mate. But while Obama and Sebelius are close, many observers predicted a backlash from Clinton supporters if he tapped a woman who isn't named Hillary Clinton, and Obama went in a different direction.