Stems cells emerging as a potent election issue

Study backed, polls shows

White House rebuts critics

August 10, 2004|By Peter Wallsten and James Rainey | Peter Wallsten and James Rainey,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The one-time "sleeper issue" of stem cell research leapt squarely into the center of the presidential race yesterday, as Sen. John Kerry's campaign attacked President Bush with renewed vigor for limiting the scope of the work and the White House responded with a multifront drive to show that the president supports the potential cure for debilitating diseases.

The White House, stung by evidence that many voters favor less restrictive policies, said the president's fundamental position has not changed. But it sought to recast the president's image on the highly charged issue by portraying him as a champion of stem cell research, as well as moral principles.

First lady Laura Bush and one of the administration's top science advisers yesterday stressed Bush's support in 2001 for the first federal funding of the research. The president provoked controversy by insisting that federally funded scientists work only with existing cell lines and not with tissue derived from any new human embryos or eggs.

Democrats have long favored a less restrictive policy on the use of embryonic tissues, but Republicans are working to mobilize anti-abortion activists who strongly oppose the use of human stem cells.

At the same time, Bush is trying to attract undecided voters who, polls show, are increasingly supportive of research that advocates say could offer cures for spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other diseases.

Yesterday, vice presidential nominee John Edwards lead the charge for the Democrats, saying that a Kerry administration would remove the Bush ban on creating new "lines" of stem cells.

The White House countered by saying Bush's position has been misrepresented and misunderstood.

Recent polls showing many voters seem to be closer to Kerry's position than the president's.

Findings released yesterday by the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey showed that nearly two out of three American adults - including more than half of Republicans - favor research.

While pollsters and Republican strategists say it remains unclear whether the stem cell issue will prove decisive for swing voters, they agree that the White House was stung by the issue's sudden rise in prominence after the death of Reagan, a revered national leader and conservative icon who suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

In a widely watched speech at the Democratic National Convention, Reagan's son, Ron, charged that Bush was standing in the way of medical progress.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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