- Associated Press - Monday, October 13, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democrats are trying to gain a political edge on the Ebola front, saying Republican-driven spending cuts have hurt the nation’s ability to fight the deadly disease.

It was pushback against Republicans who have accused President Barack Obama of doing too little to combat Ebola. Democrats say it’s the GOP’s steady push for less government spending that’s hampering key agencies at a crucial time.

“Republicans voted to cut CDC’s budget to fight Ebola,” says a new Web ad aimed at GOP House candidates, and sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The CDC is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The ad is not running on TV or radio thus far, and it’s unclear whether it, and similar efforts, will have much impact on the midterm elections three weeks away. Republicans are reaching for six new seats to grab control of the Senate and to strengthen their majority in the House.

Polls show Americans paying far more attention to Ebola than to the elections. Alarm rose Sunday on news that a Dallas nurse contracted the disease after treating a man who died after being exposed in Africa.

Health officials say a U.S. breakout is highly unlikely. But political campaigns often feed on hyperbole, fear and other emotions that might energize voters.

Both parties are testing Ebola’s political power.

The stakes are highest in Senate races. Republicans hope to gain six new Senate seats to control the chamber.

Some Republicans are tying new fears about Ebola to long-standing concerns about the Mexican border.

“We have an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors who can come across the border,” said Thom Tillis, the North Carolina Republican seeking to oust Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. “We need to seal the border and secure it,” he said.

A pro-Democratic group, Agenda Project, has produced a 60-second TV ad saying Republican-driven budget cuts are hurting the nation’s public health mobilization.

The ad, supported by modest spending so far, shows Tillis and many other Republicans in split-second footage saying “cut,” presumably in reference to federal spending. The ad will begin in Kentucky, the group said, and expand to North Carolina and other states with tight Senate races.

In 2011, after huge GOP election gains, Obama recommended spending cuts in numerous areas, including disease control.

But federal programs of nearly every type took significantly bigger hits in 2013, as the Republican-controlled House demanded less spending.

Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, said spending cuts have hurt efforts to develop Ebola vaccines.

“If we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this,” Collins recently told the Huffington Post.

In several congressional campaigns, Ebola has become an important but not dominant issue.

In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall criticized his GOP opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, for voting to cut $300 million from the CDC budget. “That’s not how we protect our country,” Udall said.

Gardner said the CDC had funded jazzercise classes and massage. He and Tillis are among the Republicans calling for a ban on flights from West African nations afflicted by Ebola. On Monday, Gardner’s campaign noted that Udall had also voted to cut the CDC’s budget.


Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.

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