How New York’s ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Fell Into Florida’s Political Spotlight

Coddington, Stephen J.

According to Google, the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan is 1,275 miles away from downtown Miami, Florida. But that doesn’t mean the proposed Cordoba House that’s likely to be constructed blocks away from the former site of the Twin Towers hasn’t become a big issue in Florida politics.

Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio — already an ardent supporter of all things conservative (if you don’t count his against-it-before-I-was-kind-of-for-it stance on Arizona’s immigration law) — is taking a firm stand with the rest of his party by vocally opposing the Cordoba House project.

“It is divisive and disrespectful to build a mosque next to the site where 3,000 innocent people were murdered at the hands of Islamic extremism,” Rubio said in a statement Saturday.

Both men running for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination say basically the same thing. Attorney General Bill McCollum says he’d be OK with a Muslim construction project “farther away” from the Ground Zero site and former hospital exec Rick Scott is already running a TV ad attacking “Obama’s Mosque.”

So that’s that. Anti-mosque Republicans can stand by their men in the Sunshine State.[TPM SLIDESHOW: Welcome To The Neighborhood? A Look At The Area Around The ‘Ground Zero Mosque’]

But if you’re a Democratic voter, the decision is a bit more difficult. In the Senate race, independent Charlie Crist and Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek have each stood up for the Muslim community center. If you’re a Democrat who takes serious issue with New York City zoning law (and/or the First Amendment), Jeff Greene is ready to fight for you.

“I’m not going to step in front of the decision that has already been made in New York City,” Meek said in a debate Sunday, according to the Palm Beach Post. “I think it’s important when we look at these issues, we’re running for the United States Senate here in Florida.”

“Should they be a little bit more sensitive? I think some sensitivity is there,” he added. “I understand that and I recognize that. But I think it’s important that we as the United States of America don’t step in.”

The other guy looking for Democratic votes in the Senate race this fall, Gov. Charlie Crist, goes farther than Meek in his suggestion that the the Constitution comes first when it comes to the Cordoba House project.

“We are a country in my view that stands for freedom of religion. You know, respect for others,” Crist told CNN on Saturday. “I know there are sensitivities and I understand that, but I think Mayor Bloomberg is right and I think the President is right.”

On the other hand, Greene, the billionaire investor who has gone to great financial lengths to tear down Meek in the Democratic primary, came out strongly this weekend against the Cordoba House project.

“President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero,” Greene said in a strong statement Saturday following Obama’s first comments on the topic. “Especially since Islamic terrorists have bragged and celebrated destroying the Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 Americans.”

“Freedom of religion might provide the right to build the mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero,” Greene added, “but common sense and respect for those who lost their lives and loved ones gives sensible reason to build the mosque someplace else.”

Greene, who is Jewish, has worked rather hard to garner support from Florida’s elderly Jewish voters and has taken a position that’s in line with the view of the Anti-Defamation League. (Other prominent Jewish groups, of course, have expressed a view on the project more in line with Obama’s.)

Whatever his reasoning for taking such a hardline against the Cordoba House, it looks like Greene is reading the same political strategy memos as the Democrats’ likely nominee for Governor, state Chef Financial Officer Alex Sink. She told the St. Petersburg Times she opposed the project on the grounds that “the wishes of the 9/11 victims’ families and friends must be respected.”

Primary voters head to the polls Aug. 24. The TPM Poll Averages for the big races are as follows:

Senate: Crist 35.4, Rubio 34.1, Meek 16.8

Senate: Crist 36.8, Rubio 34.4, Greene 16.5

GOP gubernatorial primary: Scott 37.9, McCollum 34.9

Governor: Sink 33.3, McCollum 30.7, Chiles 13.6

Governor: Sink 34.3, Scott 27.9, Chiles 15.8