The nomination of Kathleen Sebelius for the post of Secretary of Health and Human Services has been treated as a win-lose scenario for the Democratic Party. While the Obama administration gained, by all accounts, a committed health care wonk to help pursue health care reform, the party itself lost the surest shot it had at taking Sen. Sam Brownback's seat in 2010.
Republicans, indeed, may be breathing a bit easier, pending Sebelius' confirmation. But those close to the Kansas Governor, as well as officials in Washington, say that it was far from certain that Sebelius would have run for the Senate even if she had never been tapped by the administration.
"Generally speaking I just don't think she ever had a great personal passion for being in the Congress," said a Kansas elected official close to the Governor. "People always talk about her father [John Gilligan] being a governor but he was also in Congress. So she knows what D.C. is like... She likes the idea of being in executive office and she is very passionate about health care. She didn't want to be one of one hundred. And this post will suit her well."
Officials in Washington, meanwhile, expressed similar sentiments. One well-connected Democrat, for instance, made the point that, had the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee been convinced that Sebelius was going to run for the Senate, they would have "pushed back more on the White House" during the past week, when her name was floated at the top of the HHS list.
Perhaps professor Bird Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas who has worked with Sebelius in the past, summarized it best.
I have long believed that [Sebelius] was not eager to run for the Senate in 2010 (not that she wouldn't have). Basically, I think that she is much more oriented to executive/administrative politics than to legislating (although she did serve in the Kansas House for 6 or 8 years). She's very much "at home" within an administrative setting, where her policy expertise and her ability to mix politics and policy can come to the fore. I always anticipated her taking some kind of position in a Democratic Administration or moving to DC to head a large organization (professional group, trade association, etc.). She'll be 62 in 2010, and even if she won a Senate seat, after lots of exhausting fund-raising ($7-8 million for the race, I'd bet), she would start at the very bottom of Senate seniority among 60+ (probably) D senators. And generally, governors have a pretty miserable time in the Senate, at least for a while -- they just can't give an order and get things done (or even have a car pull up at the door).
So now, the party is left looking for someone else to run for Brownback's seat in 2010. The Democratic bench in the state is growing, but it's hardly deep, and local officials are at a loss when asked who will take up the challenge.
"That is a great, great question that we are all chewing on right now," said the aforementioned lawmaker. "There is no obvious big-hitter right now. One could emerge and we would love it if Lt. Gov. [Mark] Parkinson would reconsider his decision not to run."