GOP questions response to Ebola; Democrats avoid politics

Published 9:35 am Tuesday, October 28, 2014

By Tom Scheck

MPR (90.1) News

As Minnesota officials keep watch for any cases of Ebola in the state, many will also have their eyes on politics.

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This year’s October surprise in the race for governor and the U.S. Senate may be Ebola. There are no confirmed cases in Minnesota and only a few across the country, but fear that the highly contagious and often deadly disease could surface in Minnesota has many people on edge.

Given the public apprehension, some Republicans are raising questions about how Democrats are handling it at both the federal and state level – criticism that Gov. Mark Dayton aims to sidestep.

“This is a very, very serious issue,” said Mike McFadden, the Republican candidate for Senate. “We are not remotely prepared to deal with it.”

McFadden has been sharply critical of President Barack Obama and Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken for how the federal government has been handling the Ebola cases that have surfaced in the United States.

Dayton, a Democrat, wasn’t about to acknowledge any such criticism on Monday as he announced new steps the state is taking to monitor recent travelers from Ebola-affected regions.

Instead, as Dayton and the state health commissioner issued a new set of guidelines for how to monitor people who might be carrying the virus, the governor tried to stay above the political fray.

“We’re eight days before an election and that’s why I’ve asked all of these distinguished men and women to come here today,” Dayton said at a news conference with health professionals. “Because I don’t put much stock in anything any politician says eight days before an election, myself included.”

But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from trying to ride Ebola fears to victory.

Since the first known case of Ebola was identified in Dallas, McFadden has held several press conferences — and made it an issue in debates against Franken, who is seeking a second term.

“I get asked about it all the time on the campaign trail,” McFadden said. “And the leadership out of Washington and from Al Franken has been very weak and lacking.”

McFadden is one of several Republicans across the country who are pushing the Obama Administration to ban people from travelling from West African countries that have seen a major outbreak of Ebola.

Questions about a travel ban put Franken on the defensive in a weekend debate on WCCO-TV.

“I have nothing against a travel ban from West Africa but what I’m saying is that it’s totally insufficient,” Franken said.

Minnesota Republican Party Chair Keith Downey is among those who thinks the public is worried that Ebola could surface and spread in Minnesota. That could explain why public apprehension over Ebola is becoming an issue in this year’s campaign.