- Ebola was the first issue as candidates squared off at a CNN / NH1 debate in New Hampshire
- Former Sen. Scott Brown said Ebola presents a "rational fear" and the government should do more
- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen accused him of "fearmongering"
Republican Scott Brown used the latest potential Ebola case -- this time, a doctor in New York -- to blast President Barack Obama's handling of the virus outbreak in a debate against New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Thursday night.
It was a local debate that turned on national issues as Brown called for a ban on travel from the West African epicenter of the outbreak and defended his suggestion that Ebola could come across the border with Mexico.
He blasted Obama's appointment of Ron Klain as the nation's Ebola response coordinator as someone "with no experience in his field." He criticized Shaheen for not voting to close the U.S. border with Mexico. And he complained that the New York doctor should have been quarantined when he returned to the United States.
Brown even said the Ebola threat would be minimized if Republican Mitt Romney had been elected president.
"Had he been president, I feel he would have had a clear and concise plan. He would have reassured the American people," Brown said.
Shaheen, meanwhile, criticized Brown for "fear-mongering about this issue," and said neither she nor Brown have medical expertise on the issue.
But Brown shot back that "she calls it fear-mongering; I call it rational fear."
The exchange -- in a debate being moderated by CNN's Wolf Blitzer and held at the NH1 studios in New Hampshire's capital city of Concord -- was the latest demonstration of Brown's effort to nationalize the race -- connecting Shaheen to Obama and national Democrats and accusing them of wobbly responses to threats that have emerged this summer and fall.
Brown has focused his campaign on national issues, also blasting President Barack Obama for his handling of ISIS, illegal immigration and a host of other issues -- then latching Shaheen to Obama by pointing to her votes for his initiatives.
Shaheen, meanwhile, has questioned the former Massachusetts senator's move into New Hampshire, casting him as a political opportunist and accusing him of being vague on his support for abortion rights, equal pay for women and more.
The two have both dodged answers about whether they would support their parties' leaders -- Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell -- for majority leader.
Entering Thursday night's debate, the race was a dead heat. A new CNN/ORC International poll found Shaheen with 49 percent support to Brown's 47 percent -- well inside its margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Brown's favorability rating was underwater, with 50 percent of the likely voters surveyed
saying they have unfavorable views of him versus 48 percent saying their views are favorable. Shaheen, meanwhile, scored a 52 percent favorability rating.
However, the race could turn on whether Shaheen is able to keep on her side voters who
have turned on Obama. His approval rating dropped to 39 percent in New Hampshire -- which has driven Brown's efforts to connect Shaheen with the president.
It was what dozens of supporters of both candidates were talking about while cheering and chanting for their favored candidates outside the NH1 studio before the debate started.
Alice Chamberlin, a 64-year-old environmental lawyer from Warner who stopped by to pick up a pro-Shaheen sign before the debate, said some voters are turned off by Brown's approach.
"I think you can talk about the national issues all you want. People get that Scott Brown is just using us for a national stage," she said.
She pointed to Shaheen's support for equal pay and access to health care as issues that will help drive Democratic-leaning voters to the polls, and praised Shaheen's deep political ties to New Hampshire, including her three two-year terms as governor.
"We who have lived here for a long time -- and I've lived here since 1976 -- know what she's done," she said in a veiled shot at Brown, the former Massachusetts senator.
Brown supporters said he has more than enough connections to the state.
"I think anybody that was born in this state has every state to run for Senate in the state that they were born in," said Paul Schibbelhute, a 59-year-old mechanical engineer from Nashua who said he had crossed into Massachusetts in 2010 to volunteer for Brown's campaign there.
He said the "biggest issue" in the race is that Shaheen has backed Obama's policies in the vast majority of her Senate votes, calling her "carte blanche for the president."