MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Early voting began Friday across Tennessee for the August 5 Primary, and there is a surprise issue resonating in the Republican primary for state's 6th Congressional District.
For weeks now, former Rutherford County Republican Party Chair Lou Ann Zelenik has sent out press releases raising concern about the planned Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
The 52,000-foot facility was approved by the Rutherford County Planning Department for a tract of land in just southeast of Murfreesboro in late May.
Hundreds of citizens have complained about the process or expressed concern about a new mosque in their neighborhood.
Zelenik has drawn national attention for her opposition, which included a press release calling the facility an "Islamic training center."
Thursday, she sent out another release chastising her two main Republican primary opponents, state senators Diane Black and Jim Tracy, for not publicly addressing the mosque issue.
On Friday, both dismissed her claims as "untrue."
Black's campaign sent out its own release citing several statements on the mosque attributed to WKRN-TV.
Tracy told News 2 Friday he's been talking about the issue to people whenever its been raised, and has requested the Tennessee Department of Transportation conduct a study to see what kind of traffic the mosque might bring to the area.
Both then carefully reiterated their positions outside an early voting poll in Smyrna, well aware the mosque issue seems to be resonating in the district's largest county.
"The First Amendment is freedom of religion, and that is very clear, but if there is any kind of terrorism, any kind of training, any kind of thing that has to do with terrorism in that facility, I will fight to oust it," declared Tracy.
"I think this is an issue we are all concerned about when we see there is radical Islamic fundamentalist activity not just across the U.S., but across the world, however brilliant men… wrote our constitution, and it provided for freedom of worship," said Black, echoing previous statements.
Both Black and Tracy said they rarely hear about the issue in other counties of the district.
They cited Washington spending as the No. 1 issue they hear about from constituents while traveling through the district.
The 6th Congressional District includes more than a dozen counties in Middle Tennessee in addition to Rutherford.
Black, Tracy and Zelenik are just three of seven Republicans vying for the seat being vacated by retiring Congressman Bart Gordon.
Five Democrats are running for the seat.
Visit the Rutherford County Election Commission Web site to view a list of candidates or to find an early voting location.