At least four Republican Senate candidates are now injecting Ebola into the battle for the Senate by calling for a ban on travel from West African countries, with some blasting their Dem opponents as weak — and too beholden to President Obama — for not hitting the panic button along with them. As of yesterday, Joni Ernst in Iowa, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, David Perdue in Georgia, and Mike Rounds in South Dakota have all joined in the fun.
Two thirds of Americans support such travel restrictions, meaning this could be a potent issue for Republicans. So how long until Ebola is widely described as the Democrats’ Katrina — and how will Democratic candidates respond to it?
Take North Carolina, where Ebola has flared up as an issue. Tillis yesterday claimed: “It’s astonishing that Senator Hagan has refused to call for a travel ban, instead waiting for direction from President Obama at the same time more Americans are being put at risk.” Hagan responded yesterday by praising the CDC’s response thus far, and adding: “That’s not going to solve this problem. That’s not going to contain the epidemic.”
As it happens, Hagan has said she’s open to a travel ban, but only as part of a broader response to the crisis, and White House officials have said a ban would hamper the battle against the epidemic, though they have called for stepped-up action.
But Republican operatives are nonetheless circulating video of Hagan’s response, as if it is a great political misstep. One Tillis aide even snarkily tweeted: “Heckuva job?” The implication being that this is the Democrats’ Katrina. And there are early indications the press may tell the story this way, too, as this headline suggests: “President Obama’s Ebola problem.”
All of this comes as some GOP Senate candidates, such as Tillis and Scott Brown, are now explicitly linking Ebola to the border. I already laid out what I think is driving the broader GOP strategy right here, but the next thing to watch will be how Democrats respond when the calls for a ban grow louder — and how political commentators react to it. The Iowa Senate candidates are debating tonight, and Ernst’s call for a travel ban will certainly come up. How will Democrat Bruce Braley respond?
Obviously the breakdowns in the CDC response to Ebola, and the question of what we should do now, are legitimate topics for the political debate. And it’s true that a handful of Dems have called for a ban, too. But as Jonathan Cohn explains, focusing too hard on these matters risks distorting our perspective on the big story here and could distract from the need to address the real problem, i.e., the need to fight Ebola abroad. We’ll see if Democratic incumbents and candidates, under intense political pressure, are able to stay level-headed.
Update: Sam Stein reports that Kansas Senator Pat Roberts is also linking Ebola to the border. That makes a total of six GOP Senate candidates injecting Ebola into their races.
* CORY GARDNER CALLED OUT FOR DECEPTION: The Colorado Senate candidates debated last night, and Senator Mark Udall’s campaign has clipped video of a remarkable moment: The moderator directly calling out Gardner for dissembling about his support for Personhood. He said:
“A charitable interpretation would be that you have a difficult time admitting when you’re wrong and a less charitable interpretation would be that you’re not telling us the truth.”
* BUT GARDNER IS LEADING: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Gardner leads Udall by 47-41 among likely voters in Colorado. Gardner is leading by 19 points among men, while Udall only leads by nine among women — a suggestion that perhaps the Personhood issue isn’t getting it done for the Senator.
Gardner is up by 2.5 points in the polling average, which means he almost certainly has a small but clear lead at this point.
* McCONNELL CALLED OUT FOR DECEPTION: At this week’s Senate debate, Mitch McConnell claimed that Kentucky could keep its exchange (through which hundreds of thousands got coverage) even as he advocated repealing Obamacare “root and branch.” Glenn Kessler rips apart the claim, slapping Three Pinocchios on it:
McConnell’s statements make little sense unless he has a specific plan that would allow Kentuckians who currently have insurance to retain it…he leaves the big picture — What is his replacement plan? — completely empty. Thus his statements are a bit slick and misleading. If he wants to rip out Obamacare “root and branch,” then he has to explain what he would plant in the health-insurance garden instead.
Of course, Alison Grimes’ evasion on whether she voted for Obama continues to get far more national media attention. Meanwhile, this basic deception — leaving the general impression that people can keep the good stuff in Obamacare without the bad — has been employed by multiple GOP Senate candidates.
* HILLARY CAMPAIGNS IN KENTUCKY: Amy Choznik has a good overview of Hillary Clinton’s appearance in Kentucky on behalf of Grimes late yesterday, explaining that this is all about winning over women and Democrats who might have backed the Clintons but feel alienated by President Obama.
The support of both Clintons will be employed in the final stretch — in ads and elsewhere — to energize core voters, to be sure, but also to bolster the case that Grimes is a Clinton Democrat, not an Obama one.
* LIBERAL GROUPS CRANK UP IN SOUTH DAKOTA: Mayday.US, the coalition of liberal groups backing progressive Dem Rick Weiland in the three-way South Dakota free-for-all, has announced it is boosting its investment in the race to $1.25 million. It is unveiling a new ad that features Weiland’s proposals to dilute the influence of money in politics and expand Social Security.
The liberal bet: If GOP frontrunner Mike Rounds and independent Larry Pressler tear each other down, a path to victory might emerge if Weiland wins virtually all Dems and some independents. He can theoretically win with barely more than one-third.
* WHAT TO WATCH IN SOUTH DAKOTA: Alex Roarty has independent Larry Pressler on the record advocating for an increase in the Social Security retirement age. Weiland and liberals will probably seize on this to contrast it with Weiland’s support for expanding Social Security benefits.
This is one of the only races this cycle where a Democrat is campaigning on expanding social insurance, and it will be interesting to see if Weiland can win over more Dem voters by arguing he’s the only candidate in the South Dakota race who favors it.
* NOT MUCH REAL MOVEMENT IN SENATE BATTLE: There’s been a lot of excitement about new polls showing Republicans gaining in key Senate races, but FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten has a useful overview of what has really happened in these races, explaining that the shifts are marginal and that the odds of a GOP Senate takeover are not meaningfully different than six weeks ago.
Still, that doesn’t mean Republicans aren’t favored to take the Senate; of course they are. It’s just that the hyping of recent polls is a bit out of proportion.
* AND DEMS FIND AN ISSUE THAT WORKS: Josh Kraushaar has a nice piece explaining how Democrats have managed to turn outsourcing into a winning issue in multiple races, most notably the Georgia Senate contest. A GOP strategists explains why it works:
“Businessmen look at their economic contributions as net positives. They find it hard to put themselves in the economic frame of a 50-year-old guy who used to be an electrical engineer but is now doing software support because his line of work was shifted overseas,” said veteran Republican media strategist Rick Wilson. “It’s a throwback to the economic insecurity argument. Economic disruptions have led to immense anxiety by ordinary folks. A lot of Republicans have been slow off the mark to that challenge.”
In Georgia Michelle Nunn still trails, but the attacks on GOPer David Perdue for saying he’s “proud” of his outsourcing past have only just begun.