US republicans look to gain election ground on Ebola

2014-10-21 14:42
Pedestrians stand outside Mount Sinai Medical Centre where a male patient with a high fever and gastrointestinal symptoms is undergoing testing for the Ebola virus following a recent trip to West Africa. (John Minchillo, AP)

Pedestrians stand outside Mount Sinai Medical Centre where a male patient with a high fever and gastrointestinal symptoms is undergoing testing for the Ebola virus following a recent trip to West Africa. (John Minchillo, AP)

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Chicago - Ebola has moved to the front of campaign issues before US November elections, as fear and criticism of the government's response to cases of the virus in the United States opened a new line of republican attacks against President Barack Obama and his fellow democrats.

Republican Senate candidates have bashed Obama's handling of Ebola, linking it to border security and calling for a travel ban from West African countries hardest hit by the virus.

Concerns about Ebola, along with the military campaign against ISIS, have given republicans a chance to turn attention to their broader argument about what they call the administration's incompetence.

"Using Ebola is part of an attempt to turn this into a national election and tie it to President Obama's performance," said Steven Schier, a politics professor at Carleton College in Minnesota. "If the republicans can make this a national election, that makes it more dangerous for democrats and could have a real effect up and down the ballot."

Democrats have fought back by arguing that the republican emphasis on federal budget-cutting had deprived agencies of funds needed to fight Ebola.

Three cases have been diagnosed inside the United States, a Liberian man who died in Dallas, Texas, on 8 October and two nurses who treated him and are now themselves patients. The virus has killed more than 4 500 in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the World Health Organisation.

The issue has spilled into campaign debates, speeches and a campaign ads as polls show rising public concern over Ebola. An 16 October Reuters/Ipsos poll showed nearly 80% of respondents were concerned Ebola.

"One way for the democrats to keep the Senate was to control the narrative of the election", said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia's centre for politics. "Clearly they do not control the narrative, which essentially now is one crisis."

Republicans need six seats to regain control of the Senate.

In Colorado, democratic senator Mark Udall and republican challenger Cory Gardner clashed on Ebola in a debate last week.

When Udall said Gardner had voted in the House of Representatives to cut budgets for federal emergency response teams that would handle Ebola threats, Gardner shot back, "How about we use money responsibly to make sure we're protecting the American people instead of spending it wastefully under this administration?"

Gardner and democratic representative Bruce Braley, in a tight Senate race in Iowa, appeared at a House hearing on Ebola last week, where republicans called for a West Africa travel ban.

Most democrats have resisted joining that call, although at least two democrats in tight senate races, senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Michelle Nunn in Georgia, have agreed with their republican opponents on the issue.

Hagan's republican opponent, Thom Tillis, linked the virus to immigration in a debate this month, saying, "we have an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors coming across the border. We need to seal the border."

Read more on:    us  |  ebola

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