Almost as quickly as she announced her departure from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the rollout wizard for Obamacare, Kathleen Sebelius found herself courting overtures from Democrats to consider a run at a U.S. Senate seat.
While reports Wednesday suggested Sebelius had demonstrated initial reluctance at the idea of entering the Senate race, the chorus of Democratic Party voices welcoming the idea may ultimately persuade her to enter the primary field, according to The Hill.
“It seems crazy to Republicans, who see Sebelius as the face of the botched Obamacare rollout and believe her candidacy would make it even easier for them to win the Senate majority,” wrote Alexander Bolton. “But Democrats say her candidacy would make Kansas more winnable, would blunt the problems Obamacare poses to their party and would force Republicans to pour money into a red state.”
Sebelius came up through the Democratic Party in Kansas State politics, standing out in the late 1980s onward as one among very few Democrats who could get elected in the conservative State. She had served as executive director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association for 10 years prior to winning a seat in the State House of Representatives in 1986, where she served from 1987 until 1994. After a stint as Kansas Insurance Commissioner (an elected position for which she refused any campaign money from the insurance industry), Sebelius ran for Governor in 2002. Her stance against Big Insurance had made her name popular not only in Kansas, but throughout the Nation, and she won. Twice.
Then Obama brought national politics to her door, and Sebelius moved away from populism and toward policy. Almost everyone in the U.S. has had a ringside seat to watch Sebelius find out, the hard way, that project management is not her strength.
In the aftermath of her HHS burnout, it’s easy to forget that Sebelius once held about as much bipartisan appeal, nationwide, as a Democrat possibly can in the early years of the 21st century.
But Democrats looking to stanch the electoral bleeding this fall — brought about, in large measure, by the hard realities the implementation of Obamacare has revealed — haven’t forgotten. They’re hoping Sebelius has a sufficiently unbroken spirit, along with a measure of residual good will, to overtake incumbent Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and flip at least one Senate seat currently held by a Republican.
“A survey of 693 Kansas voters in February by Public Policy Polling, a liberal pollster, found Sebelius trailing the Republican incumbent, Sen. Pat Roberts, by 14 points in a hypothetical matchup,” reports The Hill. “The same poll showed Obama had only a 34 percent job approval rating in the state.”
Of course, that was before Sebelius’ inauspicious departure from her HHS job.
But even if a Sebelius Senate candidacy were to amount to nothing more than a sacrifice fly for national Democrats, there may yet be a strategic method behind an ambition that looks, to Republican observers at this moment, a whole lot like outright madness.
“I do think,” Democratic strategist Ted Devine told The Hill, “it will have an impact in terms of the Republicans being forced to defend a Senate seat that they completely take for granted right now.” Translation: In order to help Roberts hang onto his incumbency, the GOP would have throw money at his campaign. And even if Roberts does win, that’s money that could have been better spent — had Sebelius remained out of the race — somewhere else.