David Shepherd: News Blog

Journalist's Notebook

Ground Zero Debate Comes at a Bad Time for Candidates Running in November’s Midterm Election

By: David Shepherd, “The Washington Insider” columnist

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Professional Politics 101: Don’t get in the middle of a heated political debate in the midst of a crucial midterm election. Unfortunately for the Obama administration, the fight the President has landed in the middle of is between champions for freedom of religion and a nation still scared from the horror that gripped the country on September 11th.

The debate over a controversial plan to build a large Muslim cultural center 2 blocks from New York’s “Ground Zero” could be a perfect storm as an election that could shift the balance of power in Congress looms.

The President drew sharp criticism from Republicans earlier this week after issuing a statement where he seemed to be supportive of the Mosque’s plan to open in a part of town that saw, first hand, the terror of war on September 11, 2001.

This week on Fox News Sunday, Texas Republican John Cornyn said, “This is not about freedom of religion because we all respect the right of anyone to worship according to the dictates of their conscience … but I do think it’s unwise to build a mosque at the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack,”

The day before, on Saturday, Mr. Obama seemed to clarify his earlier statement. He said he supported the right of Muslims to build the center but would not comment on the “wisdom” of deciding its location in Lower Manhattan.

A debate, like this one, is the last thing any politician wants in a crucial election year. It takes attention from the issues the candidates

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 want to focus on. But it also forces candidates to take a public stance on the issue as public opinion remains sharply divided.

As both sides remain convinced their arguments are firm, politicians are hoping this debate goes away before November’s midterm elections, which are expected to result in big losses for Mr. Obama’s Democrats and a potential power shift in Congress in favor of Republicans.

Supporters of the right to build the center, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, argue that religious tolerance is the best answer to religious extremism, NBC News reported Sunday.

“The fallacy is that Al Qaeda attacked us. Islam did not attack us,” Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic congressman whose district includes the “Ground Zero” site, said on CNN’S “State of the Union.”

It’s unfortunate this argument won’t play out the way it would if it weren’t an election year. In critical election years, like the upcoming Midterm, many politicians are even more on guard than usual. It’s much more difficult to have an open, honest, productive debate as key players are caught up in the glare of media coverage that gets brighter as Election Day approaches.

August 15, 2010 - Posted by | News & Current Events

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