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Ground zero mosque flap: how Obama and Democrats can recover

Time to change the subject from the ground zero mosque controversy to something else, like jobs and the economy, say Democratic strategists. But the issue continues to draw comments from Democratic candidates.

By Staff writer / August 17, 2010

Ground zero mosque: Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada said through a spokesman Monday that while the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, he 'thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.'

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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Washington

How can President Obama and the Democrats recover from the mosque brouhaha?

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Change the subject, say Democratic strategists.

Mr. Obama needs to “get back out there and talk about his plans to get the economy back, and quit getting distracted with these other issues,” says a Democratic consultant based in Washington.

“On some level, I was very proud of him for weighing in” on the controversy over the privately owned Islamic center planned near ground zero in Manhattan, the consultant adds. “But as a Democratic political strategist, he is screwing all of us. He is screwing the party. And he’s got to get control of the message. All these House candidates ... they’re all feeling it.”

But even if Obama himself has stopped talking about the mosque, others in his party have continued to fuel the beast known as talk TV. On Monday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is locked in a tough reelection battle, said through a spokesman that while the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, he “thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."

On Tuesday, Democratic Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias came out in support of the mosque, according to Associated Press. "Are we going to talk about tolerance, talk about freedom of religion, or are we actually going to practice it?" Mr. Giannoulias said during a visit to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield.

Both comments raised eyebrows. In Senator Reid’s case, the decision to take a firm position against the location of the mosque may represent an unnecessary risk.

“As a Democrat, to go strong against the president risks alienating a part of your base,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “He needs the whole thing.”

Giannoulias, in taking the opposite tack, also has not done himself any favors, Mr. Jillson says, because by taking sides, he risks irritating potential supporters.

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