Updated Friday, April 18, at 3:25 p.m. ET.
When Kathleen Sebelius steps down from her post as Health and Human Services secretary in a few weeks, she may best be remembered for presiding over the disastrous HealthCare.gov rollout. But in addition to running a major federal agency for five years, Sebelius has an impressive record as a state leader in Kansas. Given that history, it's understandable that she may have toyed with the idea of running against Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, as the New York Times reported this week.
Citing several unnamed Democrats, the Times reported that "Sebelius had been mentioned with growing frequency as someone who could wage a serious challenge to Mr. Roberts, 77, who is running for a fourth term and is considered vulnerable."
Roberts may be vulnerable, but his biggest threat comes from his tea party-aligned primary challenger, Milton Wolf. For one thing, Kansas has for decades been a solidly red state. As CBS News elections director Anthony Salvanto notes, Kansas last elected a Democratic senator in 1932 -- before "The Wizard of Oz" had even been filmed.
"This deeply Republican state only appears to be getting more so, and it's easy to see why it would be a tough road for any Democratic candidate," Salvanto said. "Mitt Romney carried the state by 22 points in 2012, a wider margin than John McCain in 2008. Its entire congressional delegation is Republican (all of whom were themselves elected by double-digits), and registered Republican voters have a nearly 20-point lead on Democrats."
A spokeswoman at Health and Human Services told the Washington Post on Friday that Sebelius "is continuing her important work at HHS and is not considering a run for the Senate." But Sebelius managed to overcome partisan challenges in the past: By running as a moderate and stressing fiscal and budgetary issues over social ones, she was elected governor in 2002 and 2006.
Still, Salvanto noted that as a federal office, the Senate is more closely tied to national issues and partisan patterns than a governorship. And few national issues are as hyper-partisan as Obamacare -- just 2 percent of Republicans in a recent CBS News/ New York Times poll said they think the law is working well, and only a quarter of Republicans nationwide could ever consider voting for a candidate who disagreed with them about the law.
Aside from the president himself, no other public official has been associated as closely with the Affordable Care Act as Sebelius has.
Conservatives, consequently, have guffawed at the idea that Sebelius could defeat Roberts. The conservative blog HotAir.com called her "the captain of the Healthcare.gov Titanic," while the Kansas Republican Party chairman Kelly Arnold responded to the news that she could return to Kansas by remarking, "We'll pay her bus fare."
A February survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that just 29 percent of Kansas voters approve of Roberts while 38 percent disapprove of the senator. Still, in a theoretical match-up against Sebelius, he wins 52 percent to 38 percent. Roberts also has a lead over his primary challenger -- 49 percent to 23 percent -- but only 24 percent of Republican primary voters are familiar with Wolf at this point.
Wolf just released his first ad this week, introducing himself to Kansas voters and casting Roberts as a stale establishment figure.
"After 47 years in Washington, Kansas is a distant memory for Pat Roberts," the ad says. Featuring footage of the radiologist in a white coat, it says, "Dr. Milton Wolf wakes up every day and saves lives, just like his father did."
Grimes outraises McConnell in Kentucky: With first-quarter fundraising numbers in, Democrats in the red state of Kentucky have something to be happy about. Their presumed Senate candidate, Alison Lundergan Grimes, raised $2.7 million, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., raised just $2.4 million. However, McConnell has $10.4 million in cash on hand, while Grimes has less than $5 million.
Along with Grimes, two other female, Democratic Senate candidates had strong fundraising quarters: Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., raised $2.8 million, while Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn raised $2.4 million.
Landrieu under fire for ad: In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu this week launched an ad illustrating the way the senator has fought to strengthen the oil and gas industry in her state. However, since ethics rules prohibit footage shot with Senate cameras from appearing in campaign ads, the Landrieu campaign chose to re-enact some remarks that the senator gave during a congressional hearing.
Republicans have pounced on the move: "The truth is that in this footage Mary Landrieu is talking tough to an empty chair," National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring said. "If Mary Landrieu cared about being honest with voters in Louisiana, she'd appropriately label the footage as a dramatization or a reenactment, especially since she has actually voted with President Obama 97 percent of the time -- a fact which deeply undercuts the entire spot."
Palin heads to Iowa: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin earlier this year endorsed Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst, who is vying for the GOP nomination to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin. Now, she's headed to Iowa to help rally support for Ernst. Palin will headline the "Heels On, Gloves Off!" rally in West Des Moines on April 27, organized by ShePAC.
Ernst is one of five Republicans seeking the nomination for the Senate race, but she gained some extra notoriety this year with a memorable ad in which she recalled how she spent her youth castrating hogs. "Washington's full of big spenders," she said at the end of the ad. "Let's make 'em squeal."
Willie Nelson heads to Texas: While Palin will be stumping in Iowa this month, country star Willie Nelson will stump in Texas for Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Lone Star State. Nelson will join Davis in Houston on April 27 for a "Backyard BBQ," and will perform a private concert.
A PPP poll released this week showed that Davis' presumed opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, has a double-digit lead over the Democrat. Davis made a name for herself by advocating for reproductive rights in the state, but the poll found that just 32 percent of Texas women viewed her favorably, while 46 percent viewed her unfavorably.