Government & Politics

April 16, 2014

Kansas Democrats downplay a Senate bid by Kathleen Sebelius, while Republicans hope for it

The former governor and health and human services secretary is reportedly interested in a campaign against incumbent Pat Roberts, but Sebelius would not be the favorite if she ran.

Kansas Democrats downplayed a report Wednesday that former governor Kathleen Sebelius might run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Pat Roberts.

The New York Times said online Wednesday that Sebelius, 65, is considering a Senate candidacy this year.

But Dakota Loomis, a spokesman for the state’s Democratic Party, called such an effort unlikely.

“We have heard nothing that would support this tabloid speculation,” he said.

A spokesman for Chad Taylor, a Democrat who has already declared his candidacy for Roberts’ job, was equally dismissive.

“This is purely speculation on the part of The New York Times,” Brandon Naylor wrote in an email.

Republicans were a bit more cheerful about a possible Sebelius candidacy.

“We’ll pay her bus fare,” said party chairman Kelly Arnold in a statement.

Sebelius resigned as secretary of health and human services earlier this month. She is a leading supporter of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Most polls show Obamacare remains unpopular in Kansas, and Republicans said they would make it the key issue if Sebelius returned.

She might have a personal motive to run against Roberts, the newspaper story noted. Roberts, a longtime friend of Sebelius, called for her to resign in October after the Obamacare website stumbled.

Sebelius would not be the favorite if she ran.

Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that monitors congressional races, reacted with skepticism.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a zero percent chance” of a Sebelius Senate victory, he said, “but Kathleen Sebelius is a much different politician today than the one who was elected governor.”

A former state lawmaker from Topeka, Sebelius served two terms as the state’s insurance commissioner before she was elected governor in 2002.

But Kansans haven’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932 — and George McGill lost his re-election campaign to a Republican in 1938.

Contemporary polls also show Sebelius trailing Roberts in a theoretical matchup.

“If she takes a look at the polling in Kansas on where she stands with Kansas voters, she will see what an impossible task she would have ahead of her,” said Roberts campaign spokesman Leroy Towns.

Sebelius has until June 2 to file for the race. She would have to defeat Taylor, and any other Democrat, in the August primary before facing Roberts or Milton Wolf, who is a GOP candidate.

Independent Scott Barnhart of Ottawa has also filed papers to run.

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