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Morning Sun
  • Analysis: What's good for Sebelius is good for GOP

  • Republicans in Kansas are in what seems to be the strange position of hoping that their arch-nemesis, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, achieves her latest personal and political ambition.


     

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  • Republicans in Kansas are in what seems to be the strange position of hoping that their arch-nemesis, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, achieves her latest personal and political ambition.

    The cause, of course, is President Barack Obama's nomination of Sebelius as U.S. secretary of health and human services. Many Republicans who have not hesitated to criticize her policies and question her leadership now seem to have hit personal mute buttons.

    Many of them want the U.S. Senate to confirm Sebelius quickly because her confirmation is all but certain to eliminate any chance that she'll run for Senate in 2010 and to end the most serious threat the GOP faces in holding Sen. Sam Brownback's seat.

    Brownback promised years ago that he wouldn't run for a third term next year, and he's now launched a campaign for governor. Many Republicans see him winning that race, and with Sebelius out of the picture, they expect to retain his Senate seat with relative ease.

    That Senate seat also could be important to Republicans nationally. Democrats and their allies control 58 of the 100 seats and hope to pick up another from Minnesota's contested election. In 2010, they would be looking for the magic 60th seat, enough to thwart legislation-blocking filibuster threats.

    Brownback, a conservative who's at odds with Sebelius on abortion and other issues, is supporting her nomination, a stance that has upset many of the anti-abortion activists who have backed him for years. In Kansas, even abortion opponents who don't like Brownback's position appear to understand it.

    "Sam's the 41st Republican. If nothing else changed and Sam left and Sebelius took his place, then the Senate liberals could do whatever they want," said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.

    But she added, "It doesn't completely take the sting away."

    Kansas Republicans already were feeling confident about the governor's race next year when tax problems forced the withdrawal of Obama's first pick for health and human services secretary, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

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    The Kansas Constitution prevents Sebelius from running for a third term in 2010. In January, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, seen by some Democrats as their best candidate to replace her, announced that he wasn't going to run. He has stuck by the decision since.

    Sebelius hadn't said publicly that she was interested in running for the Senate, but Republicans worried about it.

    When Daschle withdrew, speculation about Sebelius began. Republicans began to anticipate a Sebelius-less political landscape in Kansas, and they liked the idea.

    Republicans have two good Senate candidates in Reps. Jerry Moran, who holds the seat for the sprawling 1st District that includes western Kansas, and Todd Tiahrt, who represents the Wichita-centered 4th District. Facing Brownback for the GOP nomination for governor is four-term Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh.

    With Parkinson out of the governor's race and Sebelius expected to go to Washington, Democrats have no announced candidate for either office.

    "They really have nobody to put up against these fairly significant Republican candidates who are already out there campaigning," said Christian Morgan, the Kansas GOP's executive director.

    Prominent Democrats argue that their situation isn't bleak. They contend viable candidates, perhaps business leaders or others, will come forward. And, they insist, it's not too late, noting that Sebelius didn't formally launch her first campaign for governor until early in 2002.

    "The Democratic Party is alive and well in Kansas," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and Sebelius ally. "I think we're going to have very competitive and viable candidates."

    Hensley also believes Republicans are headed toward difficult Senate and governor's primaries. And of course, Kansas' political history is littered with examples of how Democrats, including Sebelius, have benefited from strife within the GOP.

    "When the Republicans are fighting with each other, when they're shooting within, Democrats do better," Hensley said.

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    Morgan sees such talk as bluster. All four of the announced Republican candidates know how to raise money and can attract support from moderates, he said.

    Meanwhile, Kansas Democrats don't seem to have anyone with Sebelius' stature.

    She's not only navigated through two terms as governor — and before that, two terms as insurance commissioner — as a Democrat in a Republican state, but she has had plenty of campaign cash while doing it. She raised $10 million total for her two gubernatorial campaigns.

    Thus, Republicans have plenty of reasons for wanting her in Washington, tied up with important policy and administrative duties at Health and Human Services, when next year comes.

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    EDITOR'S NOTE: Political Writer John Hanna has covered Kansas politics and government since 1987.

     

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