Stem cells a wild card in Missouri Senate contest
Candidates for US Senate have all been dealt similar hands for this midterm election: a president with low job approval, rising voter uneasiness about the Iraq war, and flat wages. But here in Missouri, there's a wild card in the Senate contest – stem-cell research.Skip to next paragraph
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It's possible that a stem-cell ballot initiative here could affect voter turnout enough to tip one of the country's closest Senate races. Trouble is, no one can predict with confidence which candidate would benefit most: the Republican incumbent, who opposes a state constitutional amendment to permit the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research, or the Democratic challenger, who supports it.
About 51 percent of Missouri voters favor Amendment 2 while 35 percent are against it, a Research 2000 poll reported last weekend. Support for the amendment has fallen in recent months with more voters now saying they are undecided about it. The amendment would permit the use in Missouri of any federally allowed stem-cell research and treatments, including work involving human embryos.
But the advantage may in fact go to Sen. Jim Talent, running to serve a second term, because the stem-cell issue could bring to the polls the state's social conservatives who, while they are voting against Amendment 2, would also be likely to cast a vote for him.
The team behind challenger Claire McCaskill (D) "is banking on voter support for stem cell [research] to translate into support for her," says David Kimball, a political scientist at the University of Missouri here. "But it may actually energize conservative voters. If that issue were not on the ballot, they might not have as much reason to come out and vote."
An 11th-hour, TV-ad slugfest over the stem-cell measure may have served to stimulate voter interest. In an ad that debuted Oct. 21 during the first game of the World Series, actor Michael J. Fox touted Ms. McCaskill and attacked Senator Talent for failing to support the amendment. Talent supports stem-cell research that doesn't involve cloning or destroying a human embryo, but has said he opposes the amendment because it would "make cloning human life at the earliest state a constitutional right." Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh subsequently leapt on Mr. Fox, and a group opposing the initiative rebutted the Fox ad.
The video by Missourians Against Human Cloning features World Series hero-pitcher Jeff Suppan, former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, and James Caviezel, the actor who portrayed Jesus in Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ." Mr. Caviezel begins the ad speaking in Aramaic and concludes with the warning: "You know now. Don't do it," referring to voting for the amendment.
Such ads could resonate with Roman Catholic voters, who make up about 16 percent of Missouri's 5.8 million residents. Many priests in the state have taken a strong stance against the stem-cell measure, some even handing out antiamendment yard signs after Sunday Mass, according to a parishioner who saw it happening at his church.
"We're strong Catholics," he says, asking that his name not be used. "But we're not happy about the church's big push on this. They're going all out."
A CNN/Opinion Research poll on Monday showed the Senate race to be "a tossup," with Talent and McCaskill each garnering 49 percent support from likely voters.