President Barack Obama sought to mobilize Democratic voters Thursday in the race for governor in Maine while keeping his distance from the state's bubbling controversy over its Ebola quarantine policies and the nurse who has defied them.
Ebola has emerged as a hot-button issue in the Nov. 4 midterm elections, with Republicans criticizing the Obama administration for what they characterize as a disorganized response to the appearance of the virus in the US. Four people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the country, of whom one has died.
The elections feature races for governor in 36 states, although those contests have been overshadowed by competitive congressional races.
The fight for control of the Senate is the biggest prize in the midterm elections, with Democrats struggling to fend off a Republican takeover. The Republicans need to pick up the six seats to take control of the Senate and they are widely expected to expand their majority in the House of Representatives. That would give them control of Congress for the two years Obama has left in office.
Obama, whose slumping approval has been a drag on Democrats in the fiercest congressional elections, has limited his campaign appearances mostly to races for governors in states where he remains popular.
His appearance in Maine landed him in the epicenter of a debate between the federal government and several states over how health care workers returning from Ebola-stricken nations should be monitored. The White House has pushed back against overly restrictive measures, including proposals for travel bans or isolation measures adopted by some states.
Obama, who has been praising health care workers who have volunteered to fight Ebola in West Africa, had no plans to visit with Kaci Hickox, the nurse who worked with Ebola victims in Sierra Leone and is now challenging Maine's requirement that she isolate herself for 21 days.
Hickox returned to the US last week but has shown no symptoms of the disease. After a forcible quarantine in New Jersey, Hickox has been under what the state has called a voluntary quarantine in remote northern Maine, but on Thursday she went on a bike ride with her boyfriend.
Obama has urged states to consider how their policies will affect the willingness of other doctors and nurses to volunteer for Ebola work in the afflicted nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Democrats in Maine hoped the visit by Obama so close to Election Day would help put six-term congressman Mike Michaud over the top his neck-and-neck race against Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
LePage had defended his state's Ebola policies. He said Thursday that negotiations with Hickox's lawyers to discuss a scaled-down quarantine had gone nowhere, and that he was prepared to use the full extent of his authority to protect the public.