Sebelius allies doubt Senate run

Friends and former colleagues of Kathleen Sebelius say the odds are low that she will jump into the Kansas Senate race this summer.

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They overwhelmingly dismissed the idea of her entering into a heated campaign against Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) so soon after stepping down as secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"I have a hard time imagining her jumping from the frying pan to the fire on this sort of thing," said Burdett "Bird" Loomis, a well-connected Kansas Democrat and longtime professor of political science at the University of Kansas.

Loomis also served as communications director for Sebelius in 2005 when she was governor of Kansas.

"It would be extraordinarily expensive, it would be immensely hard work and it would incredibly nasty. She has the alternative of making a fair amount of money at a trade group or a nonprofit that would give her a lot of satisfaction and fewer headaches."

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the outgoing HHS chief was considering a run for Senate in spite of the political baggage she would carry from her leadership role in implementing ObamaCare.

Sources close to Sebelius said they are skeptical that she would make such a move.

Anton Gunn, a former high-ranking HHS official who worked closely with Sebelius, said it’s hard to imagine her seeking a Senate seat given the pressure she was under during ObamaCare's rollout.

"I know she's tired," said Gunn, an adviser at consulting firm 937 Strategy Group. "Jumping right into a 2014 campaign doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense."

Sebelius does not have much time to make a decision. June 2 is the filing deadline for the Senate race, and she is likely to serve at least another month at HHS while her replacement is confirmed.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee declined a request for comment. The group generally does not discuss recruitment efforts.

Speculation about Sebelius is stirring less than a week after she said she would step down as HHS secretary once her replacement, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, is confirmed.

Sebelius leaves a mixed legacy at the department, having overseen the worst of ObamaCare's rollout as well as the enrollment of more than 7.5 million people on the new healthcare exchanges.

Her resignation was widely interpreted as a response to the pressure of the last eight months and a sign that the White House desired new leadership at the department.

Sebelius has not announced what she will do next, but running for Senate would be an uphill fight.

Kansas hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since the 1930s, and both Obama and his healthcare law are deeply unpopular in the state.

A survey from late February underscored the tough odds that Sebelius would face, even if the incumbent Roberts — a friend of the Sebelius family — lost his primary election to conservative challenger Milton Wolf.

Kansas voters favor Wolf over Sebelius, 46 percent to 39 percent, Public Policy Polling found. That margin widens with Roberts, who beats Sebelius by 14 points in a hypothetical match-up.

"The poll numbers just aren't good for her," Loomis said. "It's hard to run for Senate here against a Republican. [In Kansas], Democrats beat Republican governors with some frequency. We never beat Republican senators."

Loomis was one of several prominent Kansas politicos who said the Times report came as a surprise.

"We've heard absolutely nothing," said Dakota Loomis, communications director at the Kansas Democratic Party and son of Burdett Loomis. "I've heard zero that would support that speculation."

If she decides to stay out of politics, it’s unclear where Sebelius will land when she leaves office.

Gunn said the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov wouldn’t hurt her if she transitioned into the private sector, possibly into advising hospital systems, health plans or hedge funds.

He also shed light on the personal circumstances that will hold weight in the decision: Sebelius has a toddler grandson in Washington, D.C., and her husband, Gary Sebelius, is a federal judge in Kansas.

"She's looking for an opportunity that is more stable," Gunn said. "Family is much more of a priority for her than running against Pat Roberts."