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Why Democrats are sounding like Republicans on Ebola and the GOP is moving into overdrive

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., makes a comment during a live televised debate on Oct. 9 at WECT studios in Wilmington, N.C. (Gerry Broome/Pool via AP)

Democrats are beginning to sound more like Republicans when they talk about Ebola. And Republicans are moving into overdrive with their criticism of the government's handling of the deadly virus.

The sharpened rhetoric, strategists say, suggests Democrats fear President Obama's response to Ebola in the United States could become a political liability in the midterm election and Republicans see an opportunity to tie increasing concerns about the disease to the public's broader worries about Obama's leadership.

"This is feeding into the Republican narrative that Democrats don't know how to govern and government is too large," said Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). Democrats, Manley said, "are desperate to try to demonstrate that they have tough ideas to respond to the crisis."

Democrats from across the political spectrum have suddenly embraced the idea of a temporary travel ban from West African Countries battling Ebola, even as the Obama administration has resisted the plan and health officials have warned it could make things worse.

Meanwhile, Republicans are increasingly claiming Obama's response to Ebola illustrates his inability to deal with crisis, with recent polls showing a high level of concern about the president's policies on several fronts. They are trying to level that attack against Democratic candidates by tethering them to the president.

"The continual crises that this administration has found itself in has been something that has been a constant theme," National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Rob Collins told reporters Thursday, adding that he thinks Americans "are very anxious" about Ebola.

On Friday, two Democrats running in key Senate races called for a temporary travel ban from countries battling Ebola: Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Georgia's Michelle Nunn.

For Hagan, who publicly encouraged Obama to "temporarily ban the travel of non-U.S. citizens from the affected countries," it marked a shift from earlier this month when her Republican opponent, Thom Tillis, called for a travel ban but she didn't join him. Nunn's Republican opponent, David Perdue, has also vouched for a travel ban.

Even Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), a liberal Democrat who is not in any danger of losing reelection, called on Obama to "immediately suspend commercial flights from the West African nations into the United States, as well as suspend visas for their passport holders, until we can ensure that our health facilities are adequately prepared."

The moves come as polls show the public has little faith in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is in favor of tighter restrictions on travel. So far, two nurses who cared for a Liberian man who died of Ebola in a Dallas hospital have been diagnosed with the disease in the United States, leading to questions about how it happened and how officials can prevent it from happening again.

Republicans, who had been leading the charge for a travel ban, have intensified their criticism of Obama. Former senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who is in a close race against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), suggested Mitt Romney would have handled the situation better.

“He was right on Russia, he was right on Obamacare, he was right on the economy. And I guarantee you we would not be worrying about Ebola right now and, you know, worrying about our foreign policy screw ups," Brown said Friday on Fox News Radio. The New Hampshire Republican Party seconded his opinion.

A recent CBS News poll showed just 37 percent of Americans rate the CDC as either excellent or good. Sixty percent rate it as fair or poor. Last year, polling showed Americans were much more favorable to the agency.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that shows 67 percent of Americans would support restricting entry to the United States from countries fighting dealing with an Ebola crisis.

Obama has appointed a co-called Ebola "czar" in veteran Democratic operative Ron Klain. And his administration recently announced new screening procedures for Ebola at U.S. airports. But he has not embraced a travel ban. Public health officials warn such a ban would worsen the crisis by impeding the flow of medical supplies and encouraging people to work around the by crossing over into other countries.

Republicans have presented Obama's resistance to a travel ban as evidence of poor leadership. Their argument comes at a time when concerns about the president's response to other threats are running high.

The Post-ABC poll showed Obama's approval rating has fallen to 40 percent, the lowest of his presidency. It also showed just 35 percent approve of the way Obama has addressed the threat of the Islamic State. On immigration, his approval rating is a lowly 29 percent.

Democrats, meanwhile, have accused Republicans of hypocrisy in slamming the government's response to Ebola.

"I think [voters] are going to be considering the contrast in priorities. And so one of the things I believe will be on their minds is why would Republicans choose to preside over and choose specifically to reduce funding for the CDC and the NIH," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) told reporters on Wednesday.

But Republicans have spent millions of dollars in race after race trying to turn the election into a referendum on Obama and overshadow the Democratic counterarguments. Given the president's unpopularity, that hasn't been difficult.