Washington — Republican candidates around the country seized on President Barack Obama’s support for the right of Muslims to build a mosque near ground zero, assailing him as an elitist who is insensitive to the families of the Sept. 11 victims.
From statehouses to state fairs on Tuesday, Republican incumbents and challengers unleashed an almost unified line of criticism against the president days after he forcefully defended the construction of a $100 million Islamic center two blocks from the site of the 2001 terror attacks.
Recalling the emotion of that deadly day, Republicans said that while they respect religious freedom, the president’s position was cold and academic, lacking compassion and empathy for the victims’ families.
“He is thinking like a lawyer and not like an American, making declarations without America’s best interest in mind,” said Andrew Harris, a Republican running for Congress in Maryland against first-term Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil. That line — emerging as a boilerplate attack — forced the endangered Democrat to respond.
“I mean, it seems to me those are issues related to local zoning laws and so forth, and that’s a decision that they’re going to have to make, but I don’t see the federal government having any role in that,” Kratovil said.
In Ohio, where the president was headed Wednesday as part of a three-state political swing, Republican congressional candidate Jim Renacci took issue with Obama’s position and challenged his opponent, first-term Democrat John Boccieri, to do likewise.
“Just because we may have the right to do something, doesn’t necessarily make it right to do it,” Renacci said.
The Boccieri campaign said the candidate was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
In New York, one of the developers of the planned Islamic Center said in a television interview Tuesday he was dismayed that the project had become a national political issue. “I’m surprised at the way politics is being played in 2010,” Sharif El-Gamal told NY-1. “There are issues that are affecting our country which are real issues — unemployment, poverty, the economy. It’s a really sad day for America.”