Lou Ann Zelenik, the Republican House candidate in Tennessee who made opposition to a local Muslim community center project a top issue for her campaign, has ultimately lost her Republican primary — but not by much.
With 100% of precincts reporting, state Sen. Diane Black has 31% of the vote, followed by Zelenik with 30%, and state Sen. Jim Tracy also with 30%. On the Democratic side, attorney and Iraq War veteran Brett Carter has won with a similarly slim plurality of 30%, edging out attorney Henry Clay Barry and Iraq veteran Ben Leming with 29% each.
As we’d previously reported, Zelenik made opposition to the Muslim center a big issue for her campaign — and attacked the other candidates for not opposing it enough. She boldly declared: “Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.”
Diane Black had put out her own statement, apparently seeking to balance the competing points of view: “I will always follow the wisdom of our forefathers as laid down in the Constitution, and that means I believe that all Americans must be free to practice their faith as long it does not threaten other Americans or our national security. I’m very concerned that violent jihadism is becoming the norm, not the exception in too much of Islam today, and American communities have a right to be vigilant in ensuring that Islamic institutions in this country do not aid the jihadist viewpoint.”
Black and Carter will now fight to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon, in a district that voted for John McCain by a margin of 62%-37% in 2008.
There are two main ways to look at this. On the one hand, a politician who ended up basing their campaign heavily around anti-Muslim activism lost. On the other hand, a politician who based their campaign heavily around anti-Muslim activism came very close to winning, demonstrating that there is a significant vote to be had here. And it’s not like the other candidates were doing too much to rebut her on the underlying substance.