Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s strict Ebola prevention protocols could resonate with voters but he and Democrats may walk a fine line between promoting responsible policy and politicizing a public health scare, two political science professors said Friday.
There have been no cases of Ebola in Connecticut and only one death from the virus in the United States. The chances of contracting Ebola are very low. Transfer of the virus requires direct contact with the bodily fluids of a sick person, according to the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention.
However, the virus is on the minds of many people. The potential for an outbreak has received extensive media coverage and Friday brought news of a confirmed case of Ebola in nearby New York City.
On Friday, Malloy noted that under public health protocols he has enacted by executive action, the person diagnosed in New York would have already been under quarantine if he had been in Connecticut.
“I think we have the right program here in Connecticut. That’s why I acted three weeks ago to be ready for that. I think each one of these cases will allow certain lessons to be learned. I’m confident we’ve learned some of these lessons already,” he said.
Voters may agree with him. A poll released last year suggested that 67 percent of voters believe Malloy handles a crisis well. Those are high marks for the first-term Democrat who is seeking re-election in 11 days and has never reached a 50 percent approval rating in a public poll.
“One of the governor’s strong points has been his handling of crises. Blizzards, hurricanes and his handling of Newtown. This gives him opportunity to show that he is a good manager in terms of keeping the state ready to deal with potential and real crises,” Ronald Schurin, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said in an interview.
Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University, said the recent press conference in which Malloy announced the public health protocols gave voters a welcome reprieve from what has been a highly-negative campaign between Malloy and his Republican opponent, Tom Foley.
“The governor scores political points by not trying to score political points. He gets credit more easily, even from his opponents, by just doing his job and doing it for everyone in the state,” he said.
For the most part, Malloy has done that. Asked Friday whether he felt the issue would impact the election, the governor said he did not know.
“I’ve been asked to manage a lot of emergencies in the course of the four years I’ve been governor. This is one that I’ve stepped up,” Malloy said.
But he couldn’t resist the temptation to score at least one political point by reminding a reporter that Foley appeared to deride his executive action in an an interview.
“You know, Tom Foley laughed when I signed the executive order. He actually laughed, saying that the nearest case was 1,700 miles away — why was I doing this. In retrospect, I was right and he was wrong and people can reach whatever conclusions they want,” he said.
Asked about the interview Friday, Foley denied laughing at Malloy. He said he was responding to a question about Malloy declaring “a state of emergency” over Ebola. In the interview, which was recorded and uploaded to Youtube by the Democratic Party, a host asks Foley about Malloy declaring “a public health emergency.” Foley laughs and accuses Malloy of changing the subject.
However, on Friday Foley said he was supportive of the action’s Malloy has taken.
“I actually support what the governor did a few weeks ago, which was to prepare the public health organization we have in this state for a potential infection from Ebola. And I support the quarantine program,” he said.
Schurin said it has been a challenge for Malloy to highlight his leadership during difficult situations without appearing to politicize them. It’s the same with his handling of concerns about the virus.
“You walk a fine line between creating unwarranted fear and being responsible and prudent,” he said.
The state Democratic Party may have drifted close to that line earlier this week before turning back. The party emailed reporters, advising them of a scheduled Wednesday press conference at the state Capitol, where Democratic lawmakers and nurses would speak to the state’s preparation for Ebola.
“The issue has captivated the nation, and tomorrow at 11 a.m. on the North Steps of the Capitol, legislators and nurses statewide will give an update on our preparedness — and describe what could go wrong with the wrong leadership in charge,” the email read.
The party cancelled the press conference less than two hours before it was scheduled to occur without providing an explanation. Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the party, declined Friday to elaborate on the cancellation.
McLean called the press conference a “dumb” idea and Schurin said its cancellation was a “wise” one.
“There’s no need to play politics with something like this,” McLean said.
Malloy said he expected voters would draw their own conclusions on his handling of the issue.
“Listen, I take issues square-on. I think I was the first governor to act with executive order to declare a medical emergency in our state so that we would have the tools necessary. Then we very rapidly developed a quarantine program much stricter than the federal government, now the federal government is catching up with Connecticut,” he said.
Foley said he did not think voters would will have the state’s public health preparation in mind as they head to the polls on Nov. 4.
“I think people are going to vote on jobs and the economy and taxes and spending,” he said.