WASHINGTON- A stubbornly sluggish economic recovery and high unemployment around the country are the issues likely to continue dominating the national debate in the months leading up to the 2010 midterm elections.
However, in the past few weeks some controversial cultural issues have been garnering headlines and could end up playing a role this November. The legal battle over gay marriage in California, a proposal floated by some members of the GOP to modify parts of the 14th Amendment, and a controversial plan to construct a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero in New York have stirred controversy and conversation in the last 30 days.
"Cultural issues always have a place in elections, since for many voters these issues are a motivating factor with regard to turnout," said GOP strategist and former Mitt Romney spokesman Kevin Madden. "The contrasts drawn on those issues fire up the base and rally core supporters to the polls."
The possibility of a 15-story mosque being erected mere blocks away from the site where a group of Muslim terrorists slammed two airliners into the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people, has divided the Democratic Party at the highest levels recently.
President Obama waded into the fray last Friday when he said Muslims "have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan... This is America and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable."
The next day Obama walked his comments back saying he was not commenting on the "wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there."
However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is facing a tough race against Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle this fall and came out against the project saying, "The constitution gives us freedom of religion." Reid added, "I think it's very obvious that the mosque should be built someplace else."
Georgia Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey is betting that some of these wedge issues, such as immigration, will pay off in the fall for the GOP. "The 14th amendment, section one, is being misinterpreted in regards to citizenship of children born of illegal immigrants, it was never intended for that purpose and I think this will be a huge issue," said Gingrey. "I don't think Republicans should ever waffle from those issues for fear that we might offend the middle ground. I think they'll be with us in November."
Establishment Democrats in Washington and around the country see the midterm elections as potentially a very tough time for their candidates, however they still think it's all about the economy.
"Individual races may turn on particular issues outside of the overarching theme of the economy," said Democratic strategist Mark Mellman. "However if Democrats lose seats this fall, and I think they will... The main damage will have been done by the economy."