Ground Zero mosque becomes campaign flash point for GOP

Republican candidates across the country are seizing on the debate over whether or not to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near New York's Ground Zero.

A whole new slate of Republicans came out against the project Monday and are working to muscle the issue into their own campaigns by calling on their Democratic opponents to weigh in after President Obama expressed support for the project over the weekend.

Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott (R) appears to be the first candidate to go up on the airwaves with an ad hitting the plans. 

In a 30-second spot provocatively titled "Obama's mosque," Scott aims his criticism at the president. "Barack Obama says building a mosque at Ground Zero is about tolerance," Scott says in the ad. "He's wrong."

The ad will run statewide in Florida, according to Scott's campaign. 

In a move that is likely to embolden Republican critics of the plan, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) broke with the president Monday over plans for the mosque. In a statement, a Reid spokesman said the senator "thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."  

The campaign of Reid's Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, has been pushing Reid to stake out a position on the mosque since Obama weighed in on the debate over the weekend. Angle is against its construction and has said Reid "has a responsibility to stand up and say no."  

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Monday that Republicans are politicizing the issue and warned that the party would pay a price for it come November.

"I think it's incredibly dangerous for them to move down this path and it undermines a lot of their other arguments about the Constitution and the preservation of the Constitution and the importance of the Constitution and all of the rights that are derived from it," Menendez said at a news conference in New Jersey, according to the Star Ledger. "If they constantly talk about the motto of 'let's save our Constitution,' well here we go, let's save it."

The mosque issue is also being inserted into congressional campaigns across the country. In Ohio, Republican hopeful Bob Gibbs came out against the plans Monday and called on Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) to make his position clear. 

In North Carolina, a Republican challenger to Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) announced Monday that he plans to travel to New York next month to attend a protest against the proposed mosque, which is scheduled for the afternoon of Sept. 11.

That's an event that could hold some political risk for Republican candidates who attend. Since the 9/11 attacks, the day has traditionally been one free of campaigning or political posturing. 

Meanwhile, the pressure on New York's two Democratic senators to weigh in is increasing. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have not made their positions clear. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee hit Schumer on the issue Monday. 

Pollster John Zogby says for Republicans, the issue is "all about making waves" and notes that it's likely to further energize the base for the fall.

"It riles up conservatives and keeps them riled up," Zogby said. "Meanwhile, it also is angering liberals, Jews, and African Americans — all key Democratic constituencies — all of whom need something to get them out to vote for Democrats."