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Ebola Scare, Secret Service Enter Campaign Politics

It's either tactically smart or desperately silly, but a North Carolina Republican is trying to use the week's biggest news items to attack President Obama.

The Secret Service's public humiliation and the country's first Ebola diagnosis—topics that would appear at least one step removed from partisan warfare—aren't ready-made issues for the campaign trail. But in roughly 24 hours, one candidate has managed to insert both into his own race.

Thom Tillis, the Republican Senate nominee from North Carolina, on Thursday called on President Obama to ban travel from Ebola-stricken countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, arguing that people from those countries could be vectors for the deadly disease. Just a day earlier, Tillis chided his opponent, Sen. Kay Hagan, and Obama for the Secret Service's litany of recent mistakes.

In both instances, the criticism made essentially the same point: The president can't keep America safe.

"How on earth can you protect the nation if you can't protect the White House?" he asked, according to an account of his speech Wednesday.

In a statement Thursday about Ebola, he said "it makes absolutely no sense to risk more cases" by allowing travel to the West African countries. "It's time for Washington to take action to protect the American people," he asserted.

It's unclear how either issue will resonate with voters in the state. At the moment, both are among the biggest stories in the country. Each has received disproportionately more coverage nationally than many topics discussed during campaigns, like abortion rights or Obamacare.

But it's also uncertain how much voters will hold Obama, much less Hagan, accountable for them. And the attempt exposes Tillis to criticism that he's shoehorning issues into the campaign in a desperate bid to attract attention.

"Speaker Tillis's campaign is trailing in the polls and flailing for a message," said Ben Ray, spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Coordinated Campaign. "With less than five weeks to go to Election Day, the speaker's record of big education cuts and tax giveaways for millionaires is being rejected by North Carolina voters, and he'll say literally anything to change the conversation."

Tillis, North Carolina's speaker of the House, narrowly trails Hagan in a barrage of recent polls of the race. The Tar Heel State's Senate race is considered one of a handful—along with battles in Alaska, Colorado, and Iowa—that will likely determine which party controls the Senate in 2015.

This article appears in the October 3, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.