Democrats and political analysts took measure of the fallout from President Obama's support for the ground zero mosque on Monday, saying it will only further complicate Democrats' efforts to maintain control of Congress in November.
"The long and short of it is that President Obama didn't have to take a stand on this 'local issue,'" University of Virginia political expert Larry J. Sabato tells Newsmax.
"Yet he did anyway," he says, "much to the consternation of his fellow Democrats who, unlike Obama, are on the ballot in November. They are already struggling to hang on because of the miserable economy, and they could have done without this additional millstone.”
Several Democrats fighting for their political lives in a tough election cycle openly criticized the president's comments.
Florida Democratic Senate contender Jeff Greene said the president "has this all wrong, and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near ground zero, especially since Islamic terrorists have bragged and celebrated destroying the Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 Americans."
Former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, wrote in Politico's Arena that the president's nuanced position "will not play well in parts of the country where Democrats need the most help.”
Frost added: "I would prefer the president be a little more of a politician and a little less of a college professor."
Another Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, told Fox News Sunday that the mosque "can't be there, and I don't think it should be allowed to be there, if it's going to be some type of way to undercut the truth, the reality, of 9/11 . . . which was an attack by fanatical Muslims against the United States."
White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton, speaking aboard Air Force One on Monday, indicated that the administration would rather not talk about the issue anymore.
"I think we’ve had a pretty fulsome conversation on this," Burton said. "The president thinks it’s his obligation to speak out when issues of the Constitution arise.”
What touched off the kerfuffle within the president's own party began Friday when Obama weighed into a controversy his administration had heretofore avoided as a "local issue."
The president stated religious liberty "includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has strongly endorsed the mosque proposal, enthusiastically welcomed the president's support.
Bloomberg's statement: "President Obama's words tonight evoked President Washington's own August reminder that 'all possess alike liberty.' As I said last week, this proposed mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan is as important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime, and I applaud President Obama's clarion defense of the freedom of religion tonight."
But as the backlash poured in not only from Republicans but also from members of his own party, President Obama began looking for a way to tamp down the controversy.
On Saturday, Obama clarified that his remarks addressed only whether building the mosque was constitutionally defensible, not whether its construction is advisable.
Sunday brought yet another clarification, as White House spokesmen insisted that the president's statement on Saturday did not mean he was backing away from his original remarks.
It was an awkward moment for a political team that prides itself on controlling its message. According to Politico.com, Democrats speaking mostly off the record about the president's statement could "barely contain their frustration over Obama's remarks."
"The main reaction is 'Why? Why now?'" complained one House leadership aide told Politico. "It's just another day off message. There have been a lot of days off message."
A look at recent polls explains the Democratic reaction: A CNN/Opinion Research poll reports 68 percent of voters oppose locating the Muslim community center and mosque within about two city blocks of where the Twin Towers stood before the catastrophic events of 9/11.
And polls show the mosque is even more unpopular with swing voters. Seventy percent of independents oppose the mosque according to the CNN poll.
Now that the president has addressed the mosque issue, it will be much more difficult for Democrats on the campaign trail to dismiss it as a local issue.
Republicans predictably will challenge their opponents to declare whether they agree with the president's stance.
GOP Rep. Peter King commented Saturday: "It's definitely going to create political problems for some Democrats, there's no doubt about it, and probably more so around the country."
Republicans blasted the president's on-again, off-again support for the mosque project this weekend. Reagan-era GOP strategist and commentator Ed Rollins called it "probably the dumbest thing that any president has said or candidate has said since Michael Dukakis said it was okay to burn the flag. And it was very similar."
Speaking on Face the Nation, Rollins added: "This is an emotional issue. Intellectually the president may be right. But this is an emotional issue. People who lost kids, brothers, sisters, fathers, what have you, do not want that mosque in New York."
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie also chimed in on CBS, saying the president had suggested a majority of Americans want to deny religious freedoms to Muslims.
"I think it tells you that he has a very disdainful view of the American people," Gillespie said.
As the political wrangling continued over the mosque issue Monday, there was also a report from the New York Daily News that the developer of the Park51 mosque, SoHo Properties, may be open to considering an alternative site for the facility after all.
In a Park51 twitter post Sunday, the center stated: "We are open to a conservation to find out more on what the governor has in mind."
The organization's leaders rejected a suggestion last week from New York Gov. David Paterson that he could help them find a different, less controversial site. They say the facility must serve the lower Manhattan area.
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