TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Departing U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is not considering running for the U.S. Senate, a spokeswoman said Friday.
The statement from HHS spokeswoman Dori Salcido is in line with comments from Sebelius’ fellow Democrats about speculation that she’d return to Kansas this year to run for the seat held by three-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Sebelius served two terms as Kansas governor before joining President Barack Obama’s administration five years ago.
Sebelius’ husband, Gary, is a federal magistrate whose courtroom is in Topeka, and they own a 3,700-square-foot home in the city, worth almost $358,000, according to local property tax records. They raised their two adult sons in Topeka.
Sebelius announced April 11 that she’ll step down as HHS secretary. Obama immediately nominated White House budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace her, and Sebelius is expected to remain at HHS until the Senate confirms Burwell.
“Secretary Sebelius is continuing her important work at HHS and is not considering a run for the Senate,” Salcido said in an email Thursday night to The Associated Press.
Sebelius’ departure comes after this fall’s flawed rollout of the online health insurance marketplace set up under the 2010 federal health care overhaul. Roberts, who voted for Sebelius’ confirmation in 2009, publicly demanded her resignation.
The New York Times reported this week that Sebelius was considering requests from unnamed Democrats to run for Roberts’ seat. The Kansas Republican Party quickly sent out a fundraising email, and state GOP Chairman Kelly Arnold issued a statement pledging that his party would “pay her bus fare.”
Conservative Republicans have solidified their hold over state government over the past four years largely by running against Obama and his signature health care overhaul.
“She is the personification of the Obama agenda in Kansas,” said David Kensinger, a former chief of staff to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback who also ran Roberts’ 2008 re-election campaign. “You couldn’t have a sharper contrast.”
But Democrats in Kansas had remained skeptical that Sebelius was seriously considering a run.
“Of all the things Kathleen might do going into the future, running for the U.S. Senate is probably at the bottom of the list,” said Dan Watkins, a Lawrence attorney and longtime friend.
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon said Sebelius hadn’t contacted her about a possible run and called talk of a Sebelius candidacy “just idle speculation.” Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor already has launched a campaign for the Democratic nomination.
Roberts faces a tea party challenger, Dr. Milton Wolf, a Leawood radiologist, in the GOP primary.
And Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political scientist who worked for Sebelius for a year when she was governor, said a U.S. Senate run for her would hurt Democrats’ chances of unseating Brownback in this year’s governor’s race.
“Much more plausible is Kathleen landing on her feet at a nonprofit or a trade association or at some university,” Loomis said.
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