By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Remember what Michael Dukakis said in 1988 as he accepted the Democratic nomination for president: “This election isn’t about ideology; it’s about competence”?

Gov. Dukakis went on to lose big, because the election sort of was about ideology, and his own campaign had its incompetent moments.

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But maybe he was ahead of his time.

We’re less than three weeks away now from Election Day, and would it surprise you if competence turned out to be on the voters’ minds when they enter the booth?

The federal response to Ebola may turn out to be this year’s October surprise, when an unexpected news event has a real impact on voter mood.

John Kerry blamed his loss in 2004 on an election-eve Bin Laden video in which the terrorist seemed to parrot Kerry campaign talking points.

The stock market crash of 2008 sealed the deal for then-Sen. Obama, and Hurricane Sandy helped him close it again in 2012.

And now, with spectacular political timing, we’re seeing our government struggle to prove its competence with two of its most basic responsibilities – waging war against our enemies effectively, and protecting us from pestilence.

These are not easy tasks, and the Obama administration may prove competent to handle them in the long run.

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But this is what-have-you-done-for-me-yesterday time. And the freshly-baked memories voters have of us caught napping on ISIS and fumbling the Ebola ball could do to Democrats next month what federal ineptitude in Iraq and New Orleans did to Republicans in 2006.

It’s natural for voters to expect minimal competence, and natural for them to take retribution when they don’t get it.

After all – it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

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Jon Keller