Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius emerged Wednesday as a leading candidate for the Cabinet post of secretary of Health and Human Services.
“I’ve got to believe she’s on the short, short, short list,” said Ron Pollack of the health advocacy group Families USA in Washington. “I think the likelihood is enormous.”
Sebelius’ rapid elevation as a potential successor to nominee Tom Daschle came after the former senator from South Dakota withdrew Tuesday following a controversy over unpaid taxes. And it came a day after Sebelius’ office declined to end speculation that she might be interested in the job.
On Wednesday, her office declined to respond to a request for comment. “We don’t have anything new today,” spokeswoman Beth Martino said.
The Health and Human Services secretary is expected to be one of the administration’s marquee players on health care reform. Already concerns have arisen that Daschle’s withdrawal will postpone President Barack Obama’s push on one of the nation’s most pressing issues.
Sebelius, 60 and a former state lawmaker, also served two terms as the Kansas insurance commissioner before becoming governor in 2003. She advocated increases in the cigarette tax as a way to expand health coverage during her first term as governor.
Among other names being mentioned for the post: former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, former Democratic National Committee head Howard Dean, former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and President Bill Clinton’s former Chief of Staff John Podesta.
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