By Mike Lillis
A Republican House candidate in North Carolina this week is defending her new campaign ad linking all Muslims to terrorism.
Renee Ellmers, the Tea Party-backed candidate challenging seven-term Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.), said "you could make [the] assumption" that the ad equates Muslims with terrorists, "but that's not giving me the benefit of the doubt."
"I am not intending to say that all Muslims are terrorists," Ellmers told CNN's Anderson Cooper Friday.
At issue is Ellmers' newly launched campaign ad opposing construction of an Islamic community center a few blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan.
"After the Muslims conquered Jerusalem and Cordoba Constantinople, they built victory mosques. And now they want to build a mosque by Ground Zero," the ad's narrator says.
"The terrorists haven't won," Ellmers adds, "and we should tell them in plain English, 'No, there will never be a mosque at Ground Zero.'"
Ellmers said that while "the words are carefully selected," they don't mean to label all Muslims as terrorists.
"Basically, what I am saying, sir, is that there were terrorists who attacked us," Ellmers told Cooper. "They were Islamic jihadists. And, as a result of that, we have seen the devastation on 9/11."
Leading the charge behind the Islamic center has been Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a New York-based Islamic scholar who's spent decades trying to promote understanding between the Muslim and Western worlds. Cooper noted that the State Department has used Rauf in attempts to reconcile differences between the two cultures. Still, Ellmers said her opposition to the construction is partly due to her distrust of Rauf's stated goals.
"I don't think any of us know that much about the imam," Ellmers said. "I don't know what his intentions are."
When Cooper asked Ellmers whether the churches built over the course of history by Christian conquerers don't also represent a form of victory temple, the conversation grew testy.
"What I could ask you is, are you anti-religion?," Ellmers said. "Are you anti-Christian in your thinking?"
"That's like the lowest response I have ever heard from a candidate," Cooper responded.
The political turmoil over the Islamic center hit a peak over the summer, but has since died down as Congress has shifted its focus back to the struggling economy. Still, Ellmers' new ad is indication that the North Carolina Republican, who's been endorsed by Sarah Palin, sees the issue as a political winner in November.
"I am running for the people of District 2, North Carolina, who are good, hardworking, Christian people, who just want to turn this country around," Ellmers said Friday.
The Cook Political Report lists the contest as competitive, but puts it in category of "likely Democratic."
An Etheridge spokesman told Politico earlier this week that Ellmers "is desecrating this hallowed ground with her obvious and offensive attempt to raise her profile."