President’s Cabinet picks deplete field of Senate prospects

All presidents seek the most effective Cabinets officials, but President Obama has targeted a handful of Democrats who could have greatly improved his party’s chances of snagging GOP-held Senate seats in the next cycle.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusJerry Moran: 'I wouldn't be surprised' if Pompeo ran for Senate in Kansas Mark Halperin inks book deal 2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care MORE (D) is rumored to be the leading contender to head the Department of Health and Human Services, and if confirmed, she would become the third Democrat to join the Cabinet who was in a strong position to steal a Senate seat in a red state.


Sebelius would have been the overwhelming favorite to succeed Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who is retiring and likely to run for governor in 2010. An early February poll conducted for the liberal Daily Kos website showed Sebelius beating Reps. Todd Tiahrt (R) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMcConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug bill Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill Hillicon Valley: Dueling bills set stage for privacy debate | Google co-founders step down from parent company | Advocates rally for self-driving car bill | Elon Musk defamation trial begins | Lawsuit accuses TikTok of sharing data with China MORE (R) by double-digit margins.

Instead, with Sebelius in the Cabinet, Democratic prospects for winning Brownback’s seat have plunged, much like the party’s chances in Arizona and Iowa now that former Govs. Janet Napolitano and Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE have joined the administration.

Asked if Kansas Democrats had a deeper bench, Democratic consultant Mark Sump was gloomy: “For me to say yes would be overly optimistic, given the history of Kansas in federal races,” he said, noting the party had not elected a senator since 1930, the longest such dry spell in the nation. “Everybody kind of assumed [the nominee] would be Kathleen.”

“It’s not promising,” one top Washington Democrat admitted. “There’s not really that many strong options after [Sebelius].”

Losing Sebelius as a potential recruit would be the latest setback for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which has so far seen several promising candidates leave their posts for jobs in the Obama administration.

Another Daily Kos poll, conducted by independent pollster Research 2000 in late October, showed Napolitano leading in a challenge to Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBudowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? Sharice Davids to vote for Trump impeachment articles: 'The facts are uncontested' Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (R-Ariz.), 53 percent to 45, a result that echoed previous polls.

But with Napolitano now serving as Obama’s secretary of Homeland Security, Arizona Democrats are likely to spend their resources focusing on winning back the governor’s mansion, which fell to Republican Jan Brewer once Napolitano resigned. McCain looks unlikely to face a major challenger, as Attorney General Terry Goddard (D), Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon (D) and wealthy businessman Jim Pederson (D) are all said to have their eyes on ousting Brewer.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Horowitz did not find evidence Obama asked for probe of Trump Live coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill MORE (R-Iowa) is unlikely to face a serious Democratic challenge now that Vilsack is Obama’s Agriculture secretary.

Grassley, who begins the cycle with $2.8 million in the bank and says he will campaign for another six-year term, has not faced a strong opponent since he ousted Sen. John Culver (D) in 1980, winning in each of his subsequent four elections with more than two-thirds of votes cast.

But a December Daily Kos poll showed him leading Vilsack by just four percentage points in a state that has trended decidedly Democratic in recent years.

Obama has also made several Democratic-held seats more vulnerable to Republican challenges in 2010.

In tapping Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) to serve as his Interior secretary, Obama paved the way for little-known Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Schumer to colleagues running for White House: Impeachment comes first Sanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate MORE (D) to win appointment. Republicans in Colorado have already made their intentions known to take on Bennet, though no top-tier candidate has emerged.

Obama’s choice of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to be secretary of State led to a ham-handed appointment process that resulted in Gov. David Paterson (D) selecting then-Rep. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAdvocacy groups decry Trump's 'anti-family policies' ahead of White House summit This bipartisan plan is the most progressive approach to paid parental leave Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' MORE (D) as Clinton’s replacement. That left many Democrats angry, and Republicans are encouraging both Rep. Pete King (R) and ex-Gov. George Pataki (R) to consider the race. Pataki met with National Republican Senatorial Committee officials last week to discuss the race.

And Obama’s own seat in Illinois continues to sit atop the GOP target list, as Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) hangs on amid an ever-growing scandal over the events leading up to his appointment by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). Reps. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Bottom Line MORE (R) and Peter Roskam (R), two potentially strong candidates, are considering runs for Senate, while a growing number of Democrats are lining up to challenge Burris.

Democrats insist Obama is doing no harm to their chances in 2010, pointing to GOP-held seats that will be open in Missouri, Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio, as well as to potentially vulnerable Sens. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE (R-N.C.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), as pickup opportunities.

“As president, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump's intervention on military justice system was lawful and proper The mullahs seek to control uncontrolled chaos Poll: Majority of Democrats thinks Obama was better president than Washington MORE surrounding himself with the best people and making progress in getting our country back on track is important to us,” said Eric Schultz, the DSCC’s communications director.

“I don’t think they’re doing anything beyond looking for the best people to fit the positions and to have a Cabinet make-up that looks and feels like America,” said pollster John Anzalone, whose firm worked as a part of Obama’s presidential polling team.

Anzalone touts the Democrats’ wider margin in the Senate as a reason not to fret too much over Obama’s raiding of the upper chamber members, or its best prospects. He’s already counting Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenLankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Take Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota MORE as the 59th Democrat in the Senate, even as the race for the Minnesota seat continues to play out in court.

“I am not sure if being potential statewide candidates really plays into the equation. It might be a different consideration if we didn’t already have 59 seats in the Senate,” Anzalone added.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.