Campaign Ends With Twists But No ‘October Surprise’

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Ebola, Terror Threats Seen Helping GOP Narrative, Hurting Democrats Ability to Control Debate.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican candidate Scott Brown

An election that once appeared likely to turn on domestic issues such as economic policy and health care was dominated during the final weeks by an Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, with candidates scrambling to stake out positions on unexpected topics such as travel bans and airstrikes in the Middle East.

Don’t call it an “October surprise,” say both Democrats and Republicans, who agree that most voters won’t cast their ballots Tuesday with Ebola or emerging terror threats top of mind. But even if these issues don’t qualify for game-changing surprise status, they were a consequential twist in the 2014 campaign story line.

The arrival of Ebola on U.S. shores and the U.S. military engagement in Iraq and Syria altered the political conversation just as voters turned their attention to the midterm elections. The two news events exacerbated the public’s already gloomy mood and fueled the GOP narrative that Democrats were careening from one crisis to the next, analysts said, a boost for Republican candidates.

Democrats say a crowded news environment made it hard for the party to drive its message on the economy and other matters. “The problem is that we’ve had a whole series of events from Ukraine to the Middle East to Ebola that have directed people’s focus elsewhere,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster.

Republicans have focused on what they cast as the White House’s mishandling of foreign policy and Ebola, forcing Democratic candidates to play defense. In New Hampshire, Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown made foreign affairs a centerpiece of his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, linking her to what Mr. Brown called the president’s “failed foreign policy” and running an ad that said Islamic terrorists “are threatening to cause the collapse of our country.’’ Ms. Shaheen said Mr. Brown was “fearmongering’’ by inflating threats.

A Journal/NBC News poll released Sunday found a voter preference for the GOP’s handling of Islamic State and near-parity between the parties on Ebola. Some 39% of voters said Republicans would do a better job dealing with the Islamic State, compared with just 17% who said Democrats would do better. Republicans had a one-point advantage on dealing with Ebola.

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