It was a hot, muggy June afternoon when a state GOP functionary sat down with us to explain a fairly basic premise for our 2010 election strategy. “You only have six things you need to talk about,” he said. “The first three are jobs and the last three are the Obama deficit.”
They struck me as wise words, and he had been passing them on to candidates for various offices far and wide. New York still holds a generous advantage for Democrats in the generic ballot and our sizable swing vote population is distrustful of Republicans on the best of days. But in 2010 the internal polling was showing a promising shift. Those critical moderate and independent voters were out of work in alarming proportions. They were forgetting their worries about Christian conservatives with their hard-right agenda and seemed to be coming around to the idea that the Democrats couldn’t manage the finances of a lemonade stand, say nothing of the national public purse.
But the dog days of summer seem to have a hypnotic effect on politicians. When you’re settling down in a soft, feathery, but flammable bed of electoral possibilities, why not bust open a few cans of gasoline? Rather than sticking to “the economy, stupid,” the ensuing weeks saw our Republican hopefuls dive into the type of subjects that sent the election train hurtling back toward Crazytown. We had battles brewing over gay marriage in California, repealing the 14th amendment, and perhaps the most provocative of all — the Park 51 project, popularly known as the Ground Zero mosque in New York City.
In a way it’s hard to blame these excitable boys and girls for jumping on this particular bandwagon. Even in a state famous for opposing anti-Muslim backlash following 9/11 and largely welcoming a trial for the attackers inside their own borders, people seemed opposed to the construction of the mosque. A recent Siena poll showed more than 60% wishing the mosque builders to take their business elsewhere.
But the politicians in question, particularly New York’s GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, seemed to differ on exactly how they proposed to stop the effort and what legal grounds might be used to manage the feat. Rick Lazio expressed personal opposition and questioned where the funding was coming from. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Carl Paladino claimed that, if elected, he would use the power of eminent domain to seize the grounds and prevent construction. (On exactly what constitutional footing he would manage this was not specified.)