WASHINGTON — In her darkest hour last fall, Kathleen Sebelius suffered one of the deepest cuts from an old family friend who accused her of “gross incompetence” over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and demanded that she resign as secretary of health and human services. Now she is weighing revenge.
Sebelius is considering entreaties from Democrats who want her to run against that old friend, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
Several Democrats said this week Sebelius had been mentioned with growing frequency as someone who could wage a serious challenge to Roberts, 77, who is running for a fourth term and is considered vulnerable. One person who spoke directly to Sebelius said she was thinking about it, but added that it was too soon to say how seriously she was taking the idea.
It was only last week, after all, that Sebelius, 65, said she would step down from her Cabinet job.
Even if Sebelius had not presided over the Department of Health and Human Services at a time of turmoil and self-inflicted distress — and while carrying out a law that inspires such anger on the right — her candidacy would be a tough sell in Kansas. Democrats have not held a Senate seat in the state since 1939. And even before the president’s popularity started to take a steep slide last year, President Barack Obama fared especially poorly in Kansas, winning only 38 percent of the vote there in 2012.
Democrats say that Sebelius would be their best hope at winning in a tough state, especially if Roberts loses his primary to Milton Wolf, a Tea Party-backed radiologist who has alarmed mainstream Republicans with some of his actions, such as when he posted gruesome pictures of gunshot victims on Facebook.
But friends and Democrats who know her said they seriously doubted she would follow through and mount a campaign, considering how personally difficult the past six or seven months had been. She has been mocked and excoriated by Republicans on Capitol Hill, who made her the face of the Affordable Care Act’s problems. Obama has already nominated a successor, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget, but her appointment must be approved by the Senate.
Sebelius would have until June 2 to decide, the deadline for filing for the Senate primary in Kansas.