Why a Sebelius Senate Run Could Help Republicans

Having the woman who oversaw the rollout of the Affordable Care Act on the ballot could boost GOP fundraising efforts.

HHS Secretary Sebelius
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
April 16, 2014, 9:31 a.m.

With jobs and the eco­nomy a giv­en, Re­pub­lic­ans are work­ing to turn the 2014 elec­tions in­to an ar­gu­ment over the Af­ford­able Care Act. And that mes­sage could be helped by a high-pro­file Sen­ate race in Kan­sas against the very wo­man who over­saw the law’s dis­astrous rol­lout.

Some Demo­crats are ask­ing out­go­ing Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us to chal­lenge her home state sen­at­or, Re­pub­lic­an Pat Roberts, in the fall, the The New York Times re­por­ted Wed­nes­day.

Nom­in­at­ing Se­beli­us, a po­ten­tially ser­i­ous con­tender in the state, would force na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­ans to spend money in Kan­sas, pulling away funds that could help them in oth­er Sen­ate battle­grounds this fall. Se­beli­us was a pop­u­lar two-term gov­ernor in Kan­sas be­fore join­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and could put Roberts in the po­s­i­tion of need­ing out­side help, Demo­crats ar­gue.

But Se­beli­us’s entry in­to the race could also boost Re­pub­lic­an ef­forts else­where in the coun­try. It’s not hard to ima­gine the na­tion­al party us­ing the care­taker of the first six months of the Af­ford­able Care Act as a straw man for Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates and causes across the coun­try in 2014. The fun­drais­ing let­ters prac­tic­ally write them­selves.

If Se­beli­us does de­cide to run in 2014 — and that’s a big if — she could also help Roberts in his primary race, as Alex Roarty ar­gued Wed­nes­day. Roberts is run­ning against Dr. Milton Wolf, a tea-party chal­lenger, who has faced cri­ti­cism from the party es­tab­lish­ment for some out­land­ish re­marks and is, iron­ic­ally, Pres­id­ent Obama’s cous­in. With a high-pro­file Demo­crat on the tick­et in Novem­ber, Roberts could eas­ily bring con­cerns about elect­ab­il­ity to the fore­front, po­ten­tially de­rail­ing Wolf’s already up­hill cam­paign.

Very little polling has been done in the race so far, but even an auto­mated sur­vey from Pub­lic Policy Polling showed Roberts with a 26-point lead over Wolf. The same sur­vey, con­duc­ted in Feb­ru­ary, shows both Re­pub­lic­ans de­feat­ing Se­beli­us in a hy­po­thet­ic­al fall match­up in a state Obama lost by al­most 22 points last year.

This isn’t the first time Se­beli­us has been men­tioned as a po­ten­tial Sen­ate can­did­ate. She was en­cour­aged by Demo­crats to run for then-Sen. Sam Brown­back’s seat in 2010, when he ran for gov­ernor, but ul­ti­mately de­cided to con­tin­ue her work with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

After months of deal­ing with the fal­lout sur­round­ing the is­sues with Health­Care.gov, it seems un­likely that Se­beli­us would jump in­to what prom­ises to be a nasty race against Roberts and na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­ans. Friends told the The Times they “ser­i­ously doubted” that she would run.

The Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee and Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee would not com­ment on a pos­sible Se­beli­us cam­paign.

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