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, Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas.
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.
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 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 radiologist backed by the Tea Party movement who has alarmed mainstream Republicans with some of his actions, such as when he posted gruesome pictures of gunshot victims on Facebook.
Perhaps more significant, Sebelius would force Republicans to spend money in Kansas as they tried to fight off her challenge. Her family has a long history in the state, where she was a popular, twice-elected governor. In 2006, she was reelected with 58 percent of the vote.
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 until June 2 to decide.