ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino said Monday during a live television interview that he doesn’t believe President Barack Obama is a practicing Christian “in his heart.”

“I think he worships himself,” Paladino told YNN’s “Capital Tonight” news program.

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‘I’m not saying he’s anything else, but I think Mr. Obama is about himself,” the millionaire Buffalo developer said. “I think any religious beliefs that he advocates are part of the theater to make himself look better to the American people.”

The comments come as Obama is again countering claims that he is a Muslim. In an interview broadcast Sunday on ‘NBC Nightly News,” Obama repeated his position that the confusion over his religious beliefs stems from misinformation over the Internet.

When asked Monday if he believed that Obama was a Christian, Paladino said, “No, not in his heart.”

A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday shows Obama has hit his lowest approval rating among New Yorkers. The poll shows just 51 percent of voters in the state dominated by Democrats approve of his performance. Among Republicans, 80 percent disapprove.

Quinnipiac’s Maurice Carroll said Paladino’s comments probably played well with Republicans, especially those most likely to vote in the primary in two weeks.

Paladino hasn’t apologized for many of his past controversial comments. He has answered criticism by saying he’s a straight talker and not a career politician, which he says is what New York state government needs after years of corruption, overtaxing and overspending on special interests.

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More recently, Paladino has said he would stop a proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque a couple of blocks from ground zero by using eminent domain to seize the site and develop it as a memorial to those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He said building a mosque near ground zero would be like erecting a monument to the Japanese navy at Pearl Harbor, site of the World War II attack.

In addition to the state polls on the mosque issue, national polls show that some Americans believe the president practices Islam.

Paladino’s spokesman, Michael Caputo, said after the interview that Paladino stands by the remarks and that he has little regard for Obama and for “what he’s doing to this country.”

Paladino had the extended interview because his Republican opponent in the Sept. 14 primary, Rick Lazio, refused to join him in a debate.

Lazio and Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo wouldn’t comment on Paladino’s remarks.

The Quinnipiac poll questioned 1,497 voters from Aug. 23-29. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 points.

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