|Richard Loomis Jr. of Yarmouth, Maine, viewed US flags on the Arizona border wall at yesterday’s rally. (Matt York/ Associated Press)|
WASHINGTON — Republicans will probably use President Obama’s support for the right of a Muslim group to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site to force Democrats to defend an unpopular position in the November election campaign.
With opinion polls showing public opposition to the proposal, Obama’s remarks will not gain any new voters and may alienate others, said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey.
“There is no win for Obama here,’’ Zelizer said. With the public focused on unemployment and the economy, the mosque “will not be a turning-point issue,’’ though it might play into fears about “Democrats not being tough enough on terrorism,’’ he said.
Fifty-three percent of registered New York City voters opposed the building of the Islamic center and mosque at the site and 34 percent supported its development, according to a Marist College poll conducted July 28 to Aug. 5.
Nationally, 68 percent of Americans said they opposed building the mosque two blocks from the target of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in an Aug. 6-10 poll conducted for CNN.
Obama spoke about the center for the first time Friday during an annual White House iftar dinner, marking the breaking of the daily fast in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country,’’ Obama said at the dinner. “That 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.’’
His remarks drew criticism from some Republican lawmakers and groups such as the Anti-Defamation League.
While Republicans may not mention the mosque in campaign ads, they probably will include it as part of a larger narrative that Obama is “outside the mainstream,’’ said John Feehery, a Republican strategist and president of the Feehery Group political consulting firm.
The mosque “does speak to the lack of connection between the administration and Washington and folks inside the Beltway and mainstream America,’’ Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, said on the “Fox News Sunday’’ program. “And I think this is what aggravates people so much.’’
Since his remarks Friday, Obama has said his support for the right to build isn’t necessarily an endorsement. White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said Obama “is not backing off in any way’’ from his statement at the iftar dinner.
“It is not his role as president to pass judgment on every local project,’’ Burton said in an e-mailed statement. “But it is his responsibility to stand up for the constitutional principle of religious freedom and equal treatment for all Americans.’’
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have supported the project. The mayor is majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP. -- BLOOMBERG NEWS
The Obamas boarded the 50-foot Bay Point Lady on a rainy, overcast morning, the second and final day of a weekend getaway during which the president assured residents that his administration will not forget the region even though oil has stopped spewing from a broken well in the Gulf of Mexico.
With his wife, Michelle, and daughter Sasha, 9, beside him, Obama leaned over the bow of the Bay Point Lady to watch porpoises as their boat cut through the calm waters of St. Andrews Bay.
The Obamas, who have returned to Washington, are scheduled to be in Martha’s Vineyard later this week. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS
Several of those speaking to the crowd of more than 400 demanded Congress and President Obama devote more resources to increase border security in remote areas like the site of the demonstration southeast of Tucson.
Obama on Friday signed a bill directing $600 million more to securing the border. The money will pay for 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents as well as more customs agents, communications equipment, and unmanned aerial vehicles.
A federal judge last month delayed the most contentious provisions of Arizona’s law, including a section that would require officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws if they have “reasonable suspicion’’ that the person is in the country illegally.
Opponents say the law will lead to racial profiling.
US Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth, who is challenging Arizona Senator John McCain in the Republican primary Aug. 24, spoke at the event, describing the border security bill signed Friday as “too little, too late.’’
Also speaking at the rally was Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who said more law enforcement officials should adopt his hard-line stance to prevent illegal immigrants from settling in after crossing the border. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS