Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Nancy Landon Kassebaum, daughter of the 1936 Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon, was born in Topeka, Kansas, on July 29, 1932. She was first elected to the U.S. Senate from Kansas in 1978 and served two additional terms before retiring in 1996. She had little experience in public office prior to her election, mainly having served only on the school board in the small town of Maize, Kansas, between 1973 and 1975. She capitalized on her prominent family name to win the 1978 Republican primary and then won a relatively close race against a better-known Democratic opponent in the general election. She quickly became a popular figure in the state and won reelection in both 1984 and 1990 by a three-toone margin.

Senator Kassebaum developed a reputation in the Senate as a conservative on domestic economic issues and a moderate on social issues. She was an aggressive advocate for devolution, the transferring of power from the government in Washington to the states. She deviated from many Senate Republicans by supporting international family planning abroad and pro-choice policies domestically, angering a number of Christian Right Republicans in her home state.

With a master's degree in international relations from the University of Michigan (1956), Senator Kassebaum was an active member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She was a staunch supporter of economic sanctions against South Africa during the Reagan years. She unsuccessfully challenged the Bush administration to cut off food credit guarantees to Iraq prior to the Gulf War, money that was later revealed to be used for that nation's military buildup.

After her retirement from the U.S. Senate, Kassebaum married former Republican Senate minority leader Howard Baker. She currently resides in Tennessee and has been disengaged from Kansas politics since her retirement.

Allan J. Cigler University of Kansas

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