- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a month after bucking President Bush and many pro-life conservatives by supporting expanded federal support for embryonic stem-cell research, has come under fire on that issue in Iowa, the first battleground in the next presidential campaign.

A Florida-based Christian group called the Center For Reclaiming America (CRA) is running 30-second television ads this week on cable-news stations in Iowa featuring smiling and walking babies and noting that the Tennessee Republican “supports public funding for research that actually destroys human life.”

A companion ad on radio says “we cannot save innocent lives by destroying them” and asks listeners to call Mr. Frist’s Washington office to urge him to change his position.

Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report said she doesn’t think many people are paying much attention to these ads, but they certainly can be seen as a warning to Mr. Frist that he’s going to have a hard time wooing the religious-conservative vote if he makes a bid for the White House.

“Conservatives have been issuing little warnings all over the place,” Miss Duffy said. “This [ad] speaks to religious conservatives. You’re either there 100 percent with them, or they’re not with you.”

Mr. Frist long supported Mr. Bush’s position that federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research be limited to those experimental lines that existed when the president entered office in 2001.

But on July 29, the day before Congress embarked on its monthlong summer recess, Mr. Frist took to the well of the Senate floor and reversed himself, declaring that “embryonic stem-cell research must be supported.”

Gary Cass, the executive director of CRA, said the initial media buy of $50,000 should keep the ad running in Iowa through Thursday, and the group is raising money for a national ad campaign.

“Senator Frist has made a tragic and grave error in endorsing public funding of research that destroys human life,” Mr. Cass said. “Senator Frist’s current position — one that contradicts his past pro-life convictions — abandons the principle that every innocent life is sacred.”

Mr. Frist has not declared his candidacy for the presidency, nor has any other high-profile Republican. But he is sticking to his self-imposed term limits and resigning from the Senate at the end of his term, which would free him up for an expected presidential run.

The senator also has never visited Iowa, unlike other potential Republican presidential candidates, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Mr. Frist’s spokesman, Nick Smith, said no trips to Iowa for the senator are planned, and he defended Mr. Frist’s change of position on stem-cell research.

“Senator Frist understands that there are many views on this issue, and he respects those differing opinions,” Mr. Smith said. “However, after long thought, he has made his decision based on principle and believes the research holds great promise in helping many people.”

Cullen Sheehan, executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa, said he was surprised by how early an ad has aired in his state against someone who is only a potential presidential candidate.

“It’s early, but I’m learning pretty quickly here that a lot of things are going to happen early,” Mr. Sheehan said, adding that there “hasn’t been a ton of buzz” about any candidate and most of what he’s heard about Mr. Frist has been positive.

“Quite honestly, this is not a new position for him, but the ads are new,” he said. “Obviously, this is an issue that Republicans and social conservatives care about, and it will continue to be debated. But I haven’t heard a lot of negative feedback.”

Mr. Frist, however, has barely made a ripple among Iowa Republicans. In a poll released Aug. 15 by the Republican firm Victory Enterprises, Mr. Frist finished a distant fourth with just 8 percent of respondents favoring him. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona tied for first at 22 percent.

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