Analysis: Louisiana's politicians seize on nation's Ebola worries as a political talking point

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Politicians rarely miss an opportunity to mold a crisis to their advantage.

With widespread worry about the deadly Ebola virus, Louisiana officials have offered their own concerns and complaints on the disease outbreak, in a way that also just happens to raise their profile and keep their names in the news.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, has been the most prolific, using every opportunity to slam President Barack Obama's Ebola response as inept, with at least nine emails outlining his criticism.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, both on the 2015 statewide ballot, also have hit on the subject. And Republicans have made their criticism of Obama's reaction to the deadly virus yet another way to attack Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Democrats haven't skipped the subject. They've used the concerns about a possible spread of Ebola in the United States as a way to strike at Republican Senate candidate Bill Cassidy as supporting budget cuts that would lessen public health funding.

Caldwell, a Republican seeking re-election next year, had a specific target for his Ebola worries: seeking to block the disposal of ash from the incineration of a Texas Ebola victim's belongings in Louisiana.

"We certainly share sadness and compassion for those who have lost their lives and loved ones to this terrible virus, but the health and safety of our Louisiana citizens is our top priority," the attorney general said in a statement.

He was successful in winning a temporary restraining order from a state judge, while negotiations continue with the Calcasieu Parish waste disposal site operator.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the Ebola virus is destroyed by incineration, but Caldwell says he wants the state to independently verify the ash isn't a health risk before allowing the soot to be brought to southwest Louisiana.

Jindal's discontent is more general.

The Republican governor has blasted Obama's response to the outbreak in West African countries, saying he hasn't done enough to ensure the virus won't spread in the United States. In statements, Jindal has described the Obama administration as incompetent, "committing malpractice" and more focused on public appearance than crisis response.

In his own state, the governor ordered most state agencies to report travel to countries where people might catch the Ebola virus and required tracking of travelers when they return.

Like many other Republicans, Jindal also called for Obama to enact a travel ban on passengers from countries with an Ebola outbreak and restrictions on who can travel to those countries.

Then, when the Obama administration refused to take such measures, Jindal's office and his political action committee sent out emails mocking the president's crisis management plan, complete with joking images from the TV show "Seinfeld."

Vitter, a Republican on the campaign trail for the 2015 governor's race, sent an online petition to his supporters, calling for the CDC director to be fired for the national Ebola response.

In Louisiana's contentious U.S. Senate race, Republicans say Landrieu isn't putting enough pressure on the Obama administration to address the Ebola public health concerns. They've criticized Landrieu for not seeking a travel ban and for not publicly calling for more severe containment measures.

"President Obama always seems to be a step behind on this country's most pressing issues so it's no wonder his rubber stamp Mary Landrieu is too," Ben Voelkel, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee said in a statement.

Cassidy, the congressman who is Landrieu's main challenger, has slammed Obama's response as ineffective and described Landrieu as enabling a lack in leadership from the Obama administration.

Landrieu, a Democrat seeking her fourth term, responded that Republicans are "fear mongering" on Ebola.

But while Landrieu's largely skipping talk of the deadly virus, Democrats have used the issue as a point of attack against Cassidy, though in lesser amounts. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee criticized Cassidy as supporting budgets that cut funding from agencies responding to Ebola and making tax cuts for the wealthy a higher priority.

That's how a public health crisis in West Africa becomes a political talking point in Louisiana.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press.

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