- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

The political consequences of this week’s wrangling over federal funding for stem-cell research won’t be known until November, but Democrats say the issue illustrates why they deserve a congressional majority.

Sen. Jim Talent, Missouri Republican, is an example of how stem-cell policy could shape the fall elections. The first-term senator opposed a Senate-passed measure for additional federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research.

He is locked in a tight race for re-election with state Auditor Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who supported the measure.

Mrs. McCaskill criticizes the incumbent senator and President Bush, who vetoed the bill, for blocking what she said amounted to hope for millions of families with sick children. Democrats adopted a similar refrain and said they will use the issue to generate support at the polls.

The House passed the stem-cell bill, but on Wednesday fell 55 votes short of the 290 needed to override Mr. Bush’s veto, his first since taking office in 2001.

“When we have Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, you can bet we’ll pass this legislation again,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, said in a letter to supporters yesterday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said, “Democrats will not give up this fight. Politically, I think 75 percent of the American people support stem-cell research. I think many of them will express themselves at the polls.”

Complicating the election issue for Mr. Talent is a Missouri ballot issue, the Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.

Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, supports the initiative, as does former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, a pro-life Republican who is co-chairman of the ballot effort.

Missouri Democrats have endorsed the measure, but state Republicans are neutral, calling embryonic-stem-cell research a “very personal issue” that has divided their party.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll conducted last month shows that 62 percent of likely voters favor the ballot initiative, which would amend the state constitution to protect the type of stem-cell research allowed at the federal level. It sets guidelines to conduct research on stem cells “ethically and safely” and bans human cloning.

“Everyone has to reach their own personal judgment and make a decision based on that,” Mr. Talent told reporters in May after announcing his opposition to the ballot measure.

Mr. Talent said voters appreciate when politicians do what they think is right, “even if they don’t agree with you,” the Kansas City Star reported.

Mrs. McCaskill said yesterday that voters at every campaign stop are asking about the stem-cell issue and that Mr. Talent’s alliance with Mr. Bush on the issue will hurt him, even in rural areas.

“People have noticed and ultimately it is going to help” her campaign, she said.

Mrs. McCaskill highlighted the stem-cell debate as she delivered the Democratic national radio address last week, saying the legislation would “hold up the light of hope for those who suffer.”

A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted the last week of June showed Mr. Talent and Mrs. McCaskill tied with 42 percent support each.

The June Post-Dispatch poll showed Mrs. McCaskill, who lost a bid to be Missouri governor in 2004, with a six-point lead over Mr. Talent.

Democratic challengers in other states also have taken note of the stem-cell debate.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican and a potential 2008 presidential candidate, opposed the measure.

“As Nancy Reagan has so eloquently reminded us, we cannot turn our back on this issue,” said Mr. Allen’s Democratic challenger, James H. Webb Jr. “Responsible stem-cell research holds too much potential for too many people to be obstructed by politicians.”

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