Kathleen Sebelius, who recently resigned as secretary of Health and Human Services, is supposedly weighing a run for Senate in Kansas against the Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts. It would be an uphill battle for Sebelius. Actually, that’s an understatement. She was once popular in the state, but a lot has changed.
The only poll we have from the state, a Public Policy Polling survey, has Sebelius down by 14 percentage points, 52 percent to 38 percent. More Kansans disapprove of Roberts’s job performance than approve — 29 percent to 38 percent, according to PPP. But incumbents above 50 percent at this point in the cycle rarely lose reelection. PPP also found that Sebelius fares no better than other possible Democratic candidates. Her net favorable rating of -17 points was the lowest of any possible Senate candidate tested.
Don’t believe the poll? Look at the history of voting in the state. The last time a Democrat was elected to the Senate from Kansas was 1932. That’s not only the longest drought for the party, it’s by far the longest winless streak. (The next longest drought for Democrats is in Wyoming, where they haven’t won a Senate seat since 1970.) Democrats have lost 29 consecutive Senate races in Kansas, and they just don’t win federal statewide races. Since 1940, Lyndon Johnson, in 1964, was the only Democratic presidential nominee to win in the Sunflower State.
Sentiment is no better under Obama. His approval rating was at 34 percent in the Public Policy Polling survey. That matches the 35 percent found by Gallup in 2013.
The type of Democrat who could win in Kansas would be one who could separate themselves from the national party, especially on big issues. Sebelius is not that Democrat. Although she served as Kansas governor from 2003 to 2009, her role as HHS secretary during the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act has helped to shift opinion; she is probably more identified with Obamacare than anyone besides the president. Between that fact and Kansas’s ruby-red politics, a Sebelius Senate run would be the longest of long shots.