WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's best-laid plans to go all out for Democrats in the final weeks of the midterms are running smack into a widening Ebola crisis, as Americans anxiously turn to the government and their president for answers.
Hours after unveiling an ambitious itinerary to boost Democratic candidates for governor, Obama abruptly called off the first stop on his tour Wednesday, postponing a fundraiser in New Jersey and a rally in Connecticut for Gov. Dannel Malloy -- Mr. Obama's first major campaign appearance of the season. Instead, he summoned top officials to the Cabinet Room for an emergency meeting on the government's response to Ebola.
The rare move to cancel a presidential trip -- only hours before Air Force One was scheduled to take off -- reflected a growing sense of urgency at the White House to deal with the Ebola epidemic head-on.
When previous crisis have cropped up, such as the riots Ferguson, Missouri, and the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet in Ukraine, Mr. Obama was sharply criticized for refusing to alter his travel plans.
This time, the White House seems determined to show the commander in chief is fully engaged.
Later Wednesday, Mr. Obama also canceled a scheduled trip to Rhode Island and New York Thursday to stay in Washington and monitor the government's Ebola response.
Yet if the president's schedule is in flux, his approach to the midterms is not. Mr. Obama plans a narrow focus on a handful of governor's races, betting that Democratic wins in statehouses can help him protect his legacy on health care and the economy -- even if the Senate falls to Republicans.
The emphasis on governors marks a shift for the president, who spent much of the past six months in ritzy homes raising money for House and Senate Democrats. But governor's races are a rare bright spot for Democrats this year, when historical trends and a rough map are working against them in Congress.
Another key consideration: Voters have soured on Mr. Obama in nearly every state where Democrats are fighting tough Senate races. All of the states where the president has announced plans to campaign are states he won twice:
- Michigan: Obama will rally for Mark Schauer, who Democrats say has a realistic chance to oust Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. Michigan also has the only Senate race where Obama is expected to campaign. While in Detroit, Obama will campaign for Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who is polling well ahead of Republican Terri Lynn Land.
- Wisconsin: Unseating GOP Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, would be a major coup for Democrats. Obama will rally for Walker's opponent, Mary Burke, who is locked in a tight race with Walker and recently got a recent boost from first lady Michelle Obama.
- Pennsylvania: Democrats say GOP Gov. Tom Corbett's poor approval ratings make him ripe for defeat. Obama plans an event for Democrat Tom Wolf, who polls indicate has opened up a lead.
- Illinois: Nowhere can Obama still command as much adoration as in Illinois, his home state. Obama has already helped Gov. Pat Quinn raise money, and will follow it up Sunday with a public campaign appearance. Quinn is fending off a challenge from GOP businessman Bruce Rauner.
- Connecticut: Obama's rally for Gov. Malloy, originally scheduled for Wednesday, will be rescheduled. Malloy barely defeated Republican Tom Foley in 2010, and Republicans are hoping Foley will be more successful in this year's rematch.
- Maryland: Obama will campaign for Democrat Anthony Brown, who has a sizable edge over Republican Larry Hogan in this Democratic-leaning state.
- Maine: Although there's a wild card - independent candidate Eliot Cutler - Democrats still see Rep. Mike Michaud as one of their best prospects to pick up a governor's mansion this year. Michaud faces GOP Gov. Paul LePage, who is seeking another term.