WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2010 -- President Obama hits the campaign trail for congressional candidates this week missing one key piece of the Democrats' argument for 2010 -- and having added a fresh issue for his party to cope with in races nationwide.
The missing piece is the economic rebound. The White House's heralded "summer of recovery" simply hasn't materialized; barring an astounding August turnaround, the nation will have fewer jobs at the end of the summer than it did at the beginning.
The new piece is the proposed Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. This one is all on Obama.
The president's decision to elevate a New York issue into a national one by speaking out at a dinner Friday night marking the start of Ramadan will spin it into campaigns across the country -- where candidates largely felt like they already had enough baggage to carry from Washington.
Republicans across the country now have an opening to ask Democratic candidates whether they agree with their president. And Democrats will answer that question knowing that the majority of the public is lined up against Obama.
From the president's perspective, this was a case that demanded White House leadership. The president spoke in forceful tones about the need for American values to win out at the site near Ground Zero -- though he seemed to muddle the message a day later by saying that he wasn't necessarily endorsing the idea of building the mosque and cultural center.
But from the perspective of rank-and-file Democrats who represent districts far from downtown New York City, this is an unwelcome distraction that leaves them on the minority side of a hot-button issue.
In a CNN poll taken last week, 68 percent of respondents said they opposed the plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero, with opposition running stronger not only among Republicans, but also among the independent voters Democrats need to keep in the fold this fall