The Islamophobe Primary

Tennessee holds its primary elections today, and the marquee race involves a challenge to a very conservative member of the very conservative 2010 GOP Freshman Class in the House on grounds that she’s insufficiently focused on the dire threat of Shariah Law. No kidding. It’s as though Frank Gaffney had his very own congressional district, and the campaign was being put on primarily for his benefit.

This is from a Reuters report on the contest:

Freshman Republican Representative Diane Black is challenged by Lou Ann Zelenik, who lost to Black in a primary to represent the rural district two years ago by less than 300 votes.

The heart of the struggle is over the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, about 30 miles south of Nashville, which has been controversial since construction began two years ago.

Zelenik, who vigorously opposed the mosque and warned of potential terrorist connections, said Black was not forceful enough in her opposition.

“I will work to stop the Islamization of our society, and do everything possible to prevent Sharia law from circumventing our laws and our Constitution,” Zelenik said.

The incumbent wants voters to know she’s as alert to this completely imaginary threat as the challenger, notes Nashville Scene‘s Steven Hale:

[I]nstead of letting those associations further the notion that Zelenik is “crazy” or “delusional,” as they have in the past, the Black campaign is apparently trying to measure up. When Zelenik received endorsements from three state legislators, Black’s campaign was quick to boast the support of U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann and Allen West, whose McCarthyite bona fides are unquestionable….

Most recently, incumbent Black’s defenses were up about claims she was soft on the threats posed by the Murfreesboro mosque and Shariah law. When stories by Politico and Mother Jones cited the claim, her campaign had evidence on hand to prove that Black was no latecomer to the Creeping Shariah bandwagon. Campaign spokesman Jennifer Coxe-Baker told Politico that Black had been outspoken about her concerns back in 2010 and said she had recently signed a Republican-sponsored anti-Shariah bill in the House.

So let’s get this straight: in a party that is supposedly focused with insane, teeth-grinding monomania on the economy and the fiscal situation and nothing else, a congressional primary is revolving around the horrid threat to Western Civilization of a mosque that’s not even in this district anymore (it was removed by redistricting).

Hale’s kicker is entirely accurate: “If you’ve never seen a race to the bottom, this is what it looks like.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.