GOP seizes on mosque as election issue
Add another election-year hurdle for Democrats: President Obama's forceful defense of the right of Muslims to build a ...
The New York Times
Public opinionA CNN poll conducted this month showed that 68 percent of Americans opposed the idea of building a mosque so close to Ground Zero; among independents, 70 percent were against the proposal.
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Republican congressional candidates Monday intensified efforts to inject the divide over construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero into the midterm campaigns while the Senate's top Democrat said he objected to the mosque being built there.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, facing a difficult re-election fight, said through a spokesman that those who plan to erect the Islamic center should look elsewhere, separating him from President Obama's support of the developers' right to build the mosque.
"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," said Jim Manley, a top adviser to Reid. "Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."
In a number of releases and statements, Republican House and Senate candidates challenged Reid and other Democrats to make their positions clear on the construction of a mosque and community center about two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York.
"Ground Zero is hallowed ground to Americans," Elliott Maynard, a Republican trying to unseat Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said in a typical statement. "Do you think the Muslims would allow a Jewish temple or Christian church to be built in Mecca?"
Republicans said Obama's defense of the right of developers to pursue the project showed he was out of touch with average Americans.
"It is very troubling to see President Obama again turning a deaf ear to the thoughts and concerns of a majority of Americans," said James Renacci, a Republican congressional candidate in Ohio, who said people were furious about the mosque proposal at a recent public meeting.
The remarks were a rare instance in this campaign season when Republicans have strayed from a focus on economic issues in their push for substantial gains in the House and Senate in November. The intensity of their attacks showed they do not appear worried about the risk of being seen as intolerant or not supportive of the right to freedom of religion.
Some leading Democrats said it was the president's role to stand up for constitutional rights in the mosque dispute.
South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, said Monday that "articulating the constitutional principles" on which the country was founded and "calling for tolerance on the part of all of its people" were part of "a presidential act worth exercising."
Privately, though, many Democrats were not pleased that the issue had been thrown into their laps at a time when they believed they had been making inroads by talking about how some Republicans support privatizing Social Security. But strategists said Democrats could counter the Republican offensive by labeling the mosque dispute as a local issue and saying Democrats remain focused on the economy.
Some also said the White House should not have put lawmakers on the spot in the first place and could have been better prepared for the president's statement, lining up religious and community leaders to offer support for the right to build the mosque and undermine Republican attacks.
Other Democrats said they did not see the fight resonating strongly outside New York and did not expect it to become a defining campaign issue.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat who represents the district that includes Ground Zero, said he doubted the fight over the mosque would inflict much damage on fellow Democrats in the November elections.
Nadler, who has said developers were entitled to build the mosque at the selected location if they choose, said, "Ultimately I suspect that once this simmers down in a few weeks, people will realize that everybody's liberty is at stake here."
The planned community center, perhaps 15 stories tall, would be constructed in three adjacent buildings two blocks north of Ground Zero, although one building, owned by Consolidated Edison, has yet to be sold. The other two are all but vacant; worship services are taking place in one of them.
The developer, Sharif el-Gamal, a real-estate investor born in New York, has said the center would include meeting rooms, a prayer space, a 500-seat auditorium and a pool. Two mosques, founded in 1970 and 1985, already are within several blocks of the proposed center. They are so busy and crowded that a search was begun for more space.
Before Obama spoke out, leading Republican figures such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, the party's 2008 vice-presidential nominee, had been voicing opposition to the mosque. That caused other Republicans to warn that the party risked a backlash and was alienating the nation's Muslims.
But Gingrich showed no sign of backing down Monday. "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington," Gingrich said on the Fox News program "Fox and Friends."
"We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor," Gingrich said. "There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."
Democratic campaign officials accused Republicans of exploiting the Sept. 11 attacks, noting their outrage over the mosque came only after many House Republicans opposed a new medical program to monitor and treat emergency workers and others suffering ill effects from exposure to hazardous materials at Ground Zero.
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.