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Will Ebola Fade From the Campaign Trail?

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This may be an odd question to pose considering all of the Ebola-related political headlines out there. “Democrats in Danger over Ebola.” “Ebola, Islamic State shift dynamics for Hagan, Tillis in North Carolina’s Senate race.” But there is the distinct possibility -- though it’s hardly a certainty -- that the October surprise of Ebola could very well disappear from the 2014 campaign by the end of the week. Of course, that’s completely dependent on whether today’s good medical news continues. For starters, the 40-some odd people who had contact with the original U.S. Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, have now been cleared off the watch list, because 21 days have passed since his diagnosis. Next, as the AP reported, “Spain says a test has shown a nursing assistant who became infected with Ebola is now clear of all traces of the virus.” And then there’s the news out of Nigeria, where the spread of Ebola has been officially stopped. Of course, all it would take is for another reported case of Ebola in the United States to end this wave of good news. But if we go a week without another case, it’s quite likely that the Ebola story -- at least on the American campaign trail -- would come to a halt. As we wrote on Friday, with two weeks-plus to go until Election Day, it’s more than possible there’s ANOTHER October surprise between now and the midterms. There’s simply too much time. Yes, Ebola has had an impact on the 2014 campaign. But so once did the stories about ISIS, the Secret Service, and the border.

Second-guessing Democrats keeping their distance from Obama

Our latest NBC/WSJ/Annenberg poll is the latest survey to show Republicans with an advantage (49%-44% among likely voters) heading into the Nov. 4 midterms. And once again, the GOP holds the enthusiasm edge: 42% of all Republican voters say they’re more enthusiastic than usual, versus just 34% for Democrats. And if Republicans run the table in the all the close races – similar to how Democrats ran the table in all of the toss-up contests in 2006 – there is going to be a TREMENDOUS amount of second-guessing about the Democratic candidates keeping their distance from Obama. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: A party running away from a president never works. One, because the party already owns the president. And two, because that running away alienates many of the voters who elected -- and then re-elected -- him. In other words, if the Democratic Party wants to energize its voters, is treating the head of the party like a pariah the best way to do that? Bottom line: It’s just demoralizing, and it creates a negative feedback loop (see here).

Our Divided States of America

Because we’re political reporters, our focus over the past year has been on which party will control the Senate next year, or on President Obama’s approval rating, or on all of the gubernatorial contests out there. But as one of us wrote over the weekend, that focus shouldn’t overshadow maybe the most important political development over the last several years: America -- long known for its combative politics, especially before an election -- is more divided today than it has been in decades. And it’s likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. For instance, a Pew study this year found the percentage of Americans saying they are consistently conservative or liberal has doubled since 1994 (from 10% to 21%), while the center has shrunk (from 49% to 39%). Maybe more tellingly, 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans see the political opposition as a “threat to the nation’s well-being.” And then there’s Washington’s political makeup. According to National Journal’s Ron Brownstein, Democrats now hold almost all of the Senate seats (43 out of 52) in the 26 states that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And Republicans hold nearly all of the Senate seats (34 out of 44) in the 22 states that voted against the president both times. And here’s the rub: That divide likely isn’t going away, no matter what happens on Election Day. Outside an exception here or there -- say in places like Colorado, Iowa or Kansas -- Republicans are expected to increase their dominance in the red states, while Democrats are expected to hold on in the blue ones.

How we got here, and how things can get better

To understand America’s increased polarization, the article details how we all got here (tracing it all the way back to a disputed 1984 House race); how Obama (who became famous for talking about how to unite blue and red America) and today’s GOP (for whom “compromise” is often a four-letter word) made things worse; and how things can get better (see the Bipartisan Policy Center’s recommendations to fix Washington). “No question: Politics has become more bitterly partisan and mean spirited as I have seen in 30 years of writing a political newsletter,” says Charlie Cook, who founded the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Adds former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME): “There are more incentives to be divisive than to be united.”

The Road to Redemption

Finally, don’t miss the spot that NBC’s Willie Geist did for “Meet the Press” on the politicians -- Edwin Edwards, Buddy Cianci, Larry Pressler -- looking for redemption this campaign season. Geist: “That's Edwards, as in Edwin Edwards, congressional candidate who spent 16 years as governor of Louisiana, before spending eight and a half years in prison for racketeering. Edwards is one in a crop of candidates, characters all, seeking political redemption this fall… There's 76-year-old Larry Pressler, out for a morning jog, and stunning the political world, as he runs neck and neck in a race to win back the South Dakota Senate seat he lost in 1996…. And there's the legendary, former six-term Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, looking to return to City Hall after a prison stint of nearly five years, for conspiracy to commit racketeering.” Of the three, Cianci has the best chance of winning; Pressler is competitive; and Edwards COULD make the runoff, but it’s an uphill race for him.

Countdown to Election Day: 15 days

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