According to the New York Times, unnamed Democrats are floating the name of outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as a potential opponent to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) later this year. For many reasons, such a move will not happen.
As we know, Sebelius announced earlier in April that she will be leaving her position. President Obama already has appointed a successor, subject to Senate confirmation. She leaves office bearing the brunt of what has gone wrong with the Affordable Care Act implementation, particularly relating to the disastrous registration process on the official healthcare website.
According to the Times analysis, Roberts is viewed as potentially vulnerable. This may be true in the Republican primary, because he faces a spirited challenge from physician Milton Wolf, but it is hardly the case in rock-ribbed Republican Kansas when considering the general election.
Public Policy Polling had already tested Sebelius as a potential opponent to the senator, giving us insight into her strength on the ballot. She has a strong history as a Kansas statewide candidate being twice elected both state insurance commissioner (1994, 1998) and governor (2002, 2006).
The answer, however, about how she likely will fare in a 2014 Senate race is far different from her Sunflower State electoral history. According to a relatively recent PPP survey (Feb. 18-20; 693 registered Kansas voters) – the firm had the foresight to test Sebelius in a hypothetical race against Sen. Roberts – the secretary possessed a poor favorability index of 38:55 percent positive to negative. In a projected contest against Sen. Roberts, she would trail 38-52 percent. Even the virtually unknown newcomer Wolf would begin a race against Sebelius with a lead. In a Wolf-Sebelius pairing, the Republican jumps out to a 46-39 percent advantage.
Aside from the poor approval numbers and her severe underdog status as a Senate candidate, there are other reasons why the national Democratic leadership, and most likely President Obama, would not want her in the race.
Should she run, Republicans could use her candidacy as a national symbol to remind everyone about the considerable Obamacare negatives. Assuming the healthcare situation stabilizes, the GOP will need ways of reminding voters that the program has failed to live up to the promises that were made prior to enactment, and that many of the program’s originally stated goals and objectives have not been achieved.
Additionally, national Democratic leaders will not want to commit a great deal of campaign resources to this effort. Scoring an upset victory during a midterm election in Republican Kansas is highly unlikely but, because they won’t want the original Obamacare implementer to suffer an embarrassing electoral defeat, they will have little choice but to actively fund her electoral bid. The same is true for the leaders of their unconnected outside organizations, who will likely feel forced to provide support for national issue agenda reasons.
A Sebelius Senate scenario, while worth some press fodder, is a story that will not grow legs. Expect to hear little from the soon-to-be former HHS secretary until the memory of her official tenure in office thoroughly dissipates.