Politicizing the mosque controversy might not be the smartest move for Republicans to make in 2010.
Rick Lazio, a Republican candidate for governor in New York, was called out by MSNBC's Chris Matthews Tuesday for a campaign ad that calls the man behind a proposed mosque "a terrorist-sympathizing imam."
The longshot candidate might think that going negative could improve his standing, since he can't really do worse.
Even though assorted polls show that most Americans believe the mosque should be moved, there doesn't seem to be any sign that they'll take that to the ballot box and blame Democrats, especially when a growing number of Republicans -- including the mayor of NYC and many former Bush aides -- are siding with the other team.
Lazio, the GOP gubernatorial candidate, has been attacking his opponent Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for his unwillingness to investigate the funding for the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero.
Now, Lazio has a controversial ad demanding that Cuomo do some digging to find out where the money's coming from.
But Lazio's ploy may have backfired, as both the Uniformed Fire Officers Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association have criticized the ad, saying its images upset the families of 9/11 victims.
The ad claims that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said that "America was an accessory to 9/11" but fails to give the full context of his remarks.
In an interview with CBS' Ed Bradley, Rauf said, "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened."
Matthews pressed Lazio to give the full quote:
MATTHEWS: Why don't you give us the full -- why don't you give us the complete sentence that he gave? That'd be more helpful.
MATTHEWS: Repeat the whole sentence.
LAZIO: As I recall, he said American policies were an accessory to the crime of 9/11. And people can --
MATTHEWS: That's not the sentence.
LAZIO: People can go to --
MATTHEWS: That's not what said. He said, "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory." We can argue about the word "accessory," but he didn't say we deserved to be hit.
But with one sentence, Matthews may have summed up what the attack on the imam was all about.
"The bottom of it is you're running for governor," said Matthews.
This isn't the first time Lazio has found himself in the midst of controversy during a campaign. During his 2000 campaign for US Senate, many voters were turned off when Lazio appeared to try to intimidate Hillary Clinton into signing a soft money pledge.
Mediaite's Glynnis MacNicol notes that this may be a turning point for Lazio's campaign but not in the way that he hoped. "One wonders if this will prove to be Lazio's 2010 Hillary moment," she wrote.
The New York Observer's Dan Duray blogged that it was either "a standard shouting match" or the Republican "was eviscerated, depending on who you read," but noted that the footage of Lazio pressing Clinton from 2000 was particularly "embarrassing."
This video is from MSNBC's Hardball, broadcast Aug. 24, 2010.