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Tuesday, August 4 Local

Obama cancels Bridgeport visit to focus on Ebola

Malloy campaign: President will reschedule Bridgeport visit

Consumed by the public health threat of the Ebola virus, President Barack Obama at the last minute postponed a political trip to Bridgeport on Wednesday, where he was to stump for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Malloy's campaign, which is counting on Obama to deliver a landslide in the state's most populous city just as he did in 2010, told Hearst Connecticut Media the visit will be rescheduled.

It did not have a date, however.

Malloy captured 81 percent of the vote in Bridgeport four years ago, with Obama traveling to the city in the final throes of the 2010 campaign to support the Democratic ticket.

The result helped Malloy win by less than half a percent statewide over Republican Tom Foley, who is pitted against the governor in a hotly contested rematch.

"Obviously, this happened very quickly," said Mark Bergman, a senior campaign adviser to Malloy. "We think it's appropriate that the president respond to the (Ebola) situation. That comes first."

Obama had been scheduled to appear at a rally Wednesday night for Malloy at Bridgeport's Central High School. Supporters of the president and first-term governor waited in line for up to an hour Monday for free tickets to attend the event. Ticketholders will be given priority access when a makeup date is set, the state Democratic Party announced.

Criticized by some for hitting the campaign trail in the middle of a health crisis, Obama called off the trip to the Northeast, a swing that was supposed to start at a Union, N.J., fundraiser for Senate Democrats and end in Bridgeport.

Obama instead met with members of his cabinet to discuss the emerging threat from the virus, which killed a man in Dallas last week and infected two nurses who treated him at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

Confirming protocols

Obama told reporters after the meeting -- which included senior advisers as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden -- that the United States must monitor the situation in a "much more aggressive way" and will establish a CDC rapid-response team to respond to any new Ebola case within 24 hours.

"We're going to make sure that provisions of information are constant, ongoing and being updated on a real-time basis," Obama said. "They're taking local hospitals step by step with what needs to be done and that all protocols are properly observed."

The Associated Press reported Wednesday night that Obama also canceled trips to Rhode Island and New York scheduled for Thursday to concentrate on Ebola. Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president would not hesitate to put campaign activities on the back burner.

"If necessary, I have no doubt the president will postpone his political travel to attend to priorities here," Earnest said.

As for Obama's return to Bridgeport, "We do anticipate that he will be able to reschedule this event in advance of the election," Earnest said.

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Bill Finch, Bridgeport's Democratic mayor, said locals will leave the welcome mat out for Obama.

"They were disappointed. (But) to a person they said, `You know what? He's doing the right thing,' " said Finch, who was supposed to speak at the rally. "It puts things in perspective."

Dina Ramos, a patient care assistant and city resident, said she would gladly accept a rain check.

"He can come here any time before the election," Ramos said. "Tell the president that I love him a lot."

That sentiment was not unanimous, though. While the president didn't come to Bridgeport, demonstrators decrying U.S. immigration policies went through with a planned protest Wednesday evening in front of the Bridgeport Correctional Facility, a few blocks from Central High School.

Holding up a banner with Obama's image over the words, "Deporter in Chief," the group of about two dozen protesters, mainly from New Haven-based Unidad Latina en Accion, chanted, "Not one more."

This would have been Obama's second visit to Connecticut in eight days. On Oct. 7, the president headlined a VIP dinner in Greenwich for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, at which some guests paid up to $32,400 to rub elbows with the president.

Malloy did not attend that fundraiser. His campaign had been working for several weeks to bring Obama to the state to campaign for Malloy, who was tied with Foley in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll.

Support for the president

Obama's approval rating in Connecticut was 48 percent in a May Quinnipiac poll, the most recent snapshot of his favorability here.

"Every president hits that third year in their second term where your numbers aren't very good, regardless of who you are," Finch said, adding that Obama's stock is still high in Bridgeport. "He's very popular here."

Finch said Obama cannot accomplish his agenda alone in cities such as Bridgeport and needs a supporting cast of Democratic governors and mayors. Gains made during the past four years under Malloy in the area of public housing, brownfields projects, education and the state's commitment to building a second train station in the city's East End would be in jeopardy if Malloy is not re-elected, the mayor warned.

"We really need the president here," Finch said.

A request for comment from Foley, a Greenwich businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Ireland under President George W. Bush, was left Wednesday with his campaign.

Kennedy International Airport in New York, in addition to four other U.S. airports, started screening for fevers on Saturday for travelers entering the country from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea -- the three West African countries with the most Ebola cases.

There have been 8,399 confirmed, suspected and probable cases as of last week in seven countries around the world, according to the World Health Organization. The number of Ebola deaths has grown to 4,033, the WHO reported.

Lisa Hagen of the Hearst Washington bureau and staff writer Fausto Giovanny Pinto contributed to this report.

neil.vigdor@scni.com; 203-625-4436; http://twitter.com/gettinviggy