Will Kathleen Sebelius Run for Senate in Kansas? Don't Bet on It



Forget Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary. How does Senator Sebelius sound? The New York Times reports that outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who last week announced her resignation from the cabinet post she has held since 2009, is "considering entreaties from Democrats who want her to run against that old friend, Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas."

I wouldn't expect too much to come of this. The report reads more like the product of wishful thinking on the part of Democratic backers who want to see her run than it does a sign of genuine interest on the part of Sebelius. According to the Times, a handful of Democrats named Sebelius as a potential challenger to Roberts.

But the closest it gets to a commitment from Sebelius herself is basically a whisper. "One person who spoke directly to Ms. Sebelius said that she was thinking about it, but added that it was too soon to say how seriously she was taking the idea."

I doubt she'll think about it for very long. A Senate race would be another tough slog after a rough tenure in the administration. Her reputation was severely tarnished by the botched rollout of Obamacare's exchanges last fall, especially amongst Republicans. And given the state's political leanings, she'd probably need to attract some moderate Republican votes in order to win in November. As Business Insider notes, no Democrat has won a Senate seat in Kansas since 1939, and President Obama won just 38 percent of the vote there in 2012. At the very least, then, she wouldn't be able to campaign as a Democratic partisan with close ties to the White House, which is a problem, because that's what she is.

Yes, Sebelius has had success in Kansas politics before, serving as the state's governor from 2003 to 2009. But she's not very popular there now. In a February poll of Kansas, Public Policy Polling found that if Sebelius were to challenge Roberts, she'd face a 14 point deficit, running at 38 points to his 52. Just 38 percent of the same poll's respondents said they viewed Sebelius favorably; 55 percent said they held an unfavorable opinion of her. 

And then there's the timing issue. Sebelius is expected to stay on as Obama's HHS Secretary until her successor, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, is confirmed. But that probably won't be for another month or two. The deadline to file for the Kansas Senate race is June 2.

It's always possible, I suppose, that Sebelius will decide to run anyway, if only to attract Republican campaign dollars away from other races. But it seems like a long shot at best. As the end of the Times story notes, "friends and Democrats who know her said that they seriously doubted she would follow through and mount a campaign."