Ebola and CDC: Distrust of White House grows

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden addresses the media on Ebola in the U.S. at the Tom Harkin Global Communications Center on Oct. 5, 2014 in Atlanta.
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Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden addresses the media on Ebola in the U.S. at the Tom Harkin Global Communications Center on Oct. 5, 2014 in Atlanta.

As the midterm elections grow closer, Americans now have another big fear to add to a growing list and another government agency to distrust.

Ebola is very unlikely to become a major health crisis in the United States but the fact that the deadly disease reached our shores has quite understandably shaken American nerves and left people deeply concerned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not up to the job of keeping us safe.

The CDC is just the latest in a line of federal agencies viewed as bumbling and incompetent. First it was the botched rollout of Obamacare by the Department of Health and Human Services and the IRS seemingly targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny. More recently, the Secret Service came under heavy criticism for allowing a knife-wielding intruder to burst in and run wild inside the White House, among other appalling lapses.

The CDC now is under heavy scrutiny for not moving more swiftly to ensure that Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan did not spread the disease to American nurses and for apparently unclear direction to one of those nurses, Amber Joy Vinson, about whether she could fly after treating Duncan.

Vinson, now being treated for Ebola, flew back and forth to Cleveland while carrying the virus, increasing the risk of its spread. A news report Friday morning said a Texas health worker who potentially had exposure to the virus was on a cruise ship.

Fairly or not, Americans are quickly souring on the Obama administration's Ebola response, with majorities favoring a travel ban from Ebola-stricken countries that the White House opposes.

And confidence in the CDC is plummeting.

Read MoreEbola 'fear factor' biggest threat: Goldman

A new CBS poll out Friday morning found that just 37 percent think the agency is doing an "excellent or good" job. That was down nearly half from a Gallup poll in May that found that 60 percent rated the CDC as excellent or good, the highest of any government agency.

CDC Director Tom Frieden came under withering criticism on Capitol Hill on Thursday—much but not all of it from Republicans—over his department's handling of Ebola thus far. And he has also been the recipient of the dreaded vote of "confidence" from the White House that often precedes an unceremonial sacking.

On Friday, President Barack Obama tapped Ron Klain, a longtime Democratic operative and advisor to Vice President Joe Biden and former Vice President Al Gore, as his Ebola "czar" in charge of coordinating the government response, not exactly a ringing endorsement of Frieden's work thus far.

Read MorePresident Obama to appoint Ron Klain as Ebola czar: Source

The Ebola scare is sure to have some impact on the 2014 midterms though it will be unpredictable and hard to quantify.

At the most obvious level, the outbreak will further undermine confidence in the Obama administration and make those inclined to cast a protest vote against the president and his party even more likely to do so.

That's especially troubling for vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents such as Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Begich in Alaska and Mark Pryor in Arkansas. Non-incumbent Democrats like Michelle Nunn in Georgia are harder to tie directly to the president (and indeed rarely if ever mention his name) but Republicans will surely continue to step up their efforts to do so.

In fact, national Republican figures have already launched barbed attacks on the administration's Ebola response, attempting to both bolster their own positions for the 2016 presidential race and make 2014 even more of a referendum on Obama.

Potential 2016 candidates Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have both ripped the president over Ebola. Scott Brown, running against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, called for an Ebola travel ban and even linked the issue to immigration, something that Democrats regard as shameless opportunism yet seems to resonate with conservative voters.

House Speaker John Boehner this week also said that Obama should "absolutely consider" banning travel from Ebola-stricken countries, further lining the GOP up with public opinion on the issue.

Read MoreWhite House, officials spar on Ebola travel ban

And on the question of a travel ban, it is very hard to dismiss public opinion as uniformed and the result of unwarranted panic. African nations have instituted their own travel bans and serious epidemiologists also argue that significant travel restrictions and quarantines—though not outright bans blocking aid workers—are likely warranted.

There remains a distinct possibility that the administration will ultimately have to institute broader travel restrictions, something that would make its initial reluctance look very bad in retrospect.

The frightening Ebola news is washing over an electorate already deeply worried about the tenuous U.S. economy and the advance of Islamic militants in the Middle East. It's not that people have much more trust in Republicans to address any of these issues.

It's just that when you are uncertain and afraid, the tendency is to want to punish the people you hold responsible, and in this case that's President Obama and the Democrats.

—By Ben White. White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.