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 SebeliusMark Halperin inks book deal 2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care Biden, Harris tangle over heath care in Democratic debate 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) MoranSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Olympic athletes in response to abuse scandals Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sale 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 McCainMcCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death Arizona poll shows Kelly overtaking McSally 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 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 GrassleyWhite House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation 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 BennetThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape 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 Elizabeth GillibrandCastro qualifies for next Democratic primary debates The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries 2020 Democrats react to NYPD firing of officer in Garner case: 'Finally' 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 KirkAdvocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student's mid-flight allergic reaction Funding the fight against polio Ex-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby 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 BurrHoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role Trump withdraws Ratcliffe as Intelligence pick MORE (R-N.C.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), as pickup opportunities.

“As president, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBen Shapiro: No prominent GOP figure ever questioned Obama's legitimacy 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 Obama's high school basketball jersey sells for 0,000 at auction 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 FrankenNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again Al Franken urges Trump to give new speech after shootings: 'Try to make it sound like you're sincere, even if you're not' 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.