Cardin promises cancer cure

Senate candidate pitches health credentials, plan to beat disease by 2015

Maryland Votes 2006


With a month to go before primary voters head to the polls to choose Senate nominees, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin kicked off yesterday a weeklong effort to highlight his congressional record and vision on health care by making the mother of all campaign promises - to cure cancer.

Cardin, a Democrat from Baltimore County, gathered with cancer survivors and doctors in Lutherville to detail his efforts to expand cancer screening and his plans to fight the disease.

"We are going to lick cancer by 2015," Cardin told a group of 15 people at the HopeWell Cancer Support Center on Falls Road.

The health care push comes as he and other candidates fight to distinguish themselves from the crowd of Democrats and Republicans vying to replace retiring incumbent Paul S. Sarbanes, the state's longest-serving senator. All are hoping to make their views and accomplishments known as voters start to pay more attention to the high-profile race.

Coinciding with the event, the Cardin campaign released yesterday an Internet campaign commercial in which a cancer survivor discusses how early detection saved him.

"They caught mine early and I'm cured," Dr. Edwin Adelson says in the ad. "Thanks to Ben Cardin, others can have their chance. ... He's literally a lifesaver."

Cardin's top rival in the Democratic primary, Kweisi Mfume, said yesterday that his health care pledges include fighting for stem cell research and universal health care.

"Kweisi Mfume ... has also been a leading advocate of stem cell research, which has the potential to revolutionize medical science," said Steve Marinoff, a campaign spokesman.

Robin Rorapaugh, campaign manager for candidate Josh Rales, said the Potomac businessman is sympathetic to Cardin's comments because his mother died two years ago of breast cancer.

"While a noble goal and one that all people hope will be achieved, Congressman Cardin should know that unless we get our budget deficit under control and redefine our national priorities and spending cancer will not be cured [and] cancer research will not get the funding that it needs," Rorapaugh said.

Cardin's campaign is trying to illustrate the candidate's long history of commitment to health issues.

In 1997, Cardin spearheaded bipartisan efforts that resulted in a new law that expanded Medicare coverage for screening several types of cancer. Two years later, he pushed for Medicare coverage of patients undergoing clinical cancer trials, a measure enacted by a 2000 executive order issued by President Bill Clinton.

Dr. Marvin Schuster, a retired Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist, said Cardin has been a leader on health care since he was first elected in 1987.

"Hillary Clinton once told me that Ben knows more about health care than any member of Congress, and she's right," said Schuster, who attended yesterday's event.

An advocate of universal health care, Cardin promised yesterday to restore Republican funding cuts to the National Institutes of Health. He also pledged to promote public awareness programs on screenings and study why certain cancers disproportionately affect African-Americans.

Promising a cancer cure by 2015 might strike some as an election-year gimmick, but that is the year that the National Institute of Cancer identified as its goal "to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer," according to the institute's Web site.

Zach Messitte, a political scientist at St. Mary's College, said Cardin's comments are not unrealistic.

"I had a tumor on my tonsils that spread to my lymph nodes" two years ago, Messitte said. "Six months later I was teaching. It's not a crazy thing to be saying that certain types of cancer could be cured by 2015."

Messitte said voters should expect all of the Democratic senate candidates to focus on medical issues because of Republican candidate Michael S. Steele's opposition to embryonic stem cell research. A Catholic who opposes abortion, Steele has said he supports research using adult and cord blood stem cells, but that he favors research seeking to extract stem cells without destroying embryos.

"It will be a very clear issue dividing the Democratic nominee and Steele," Messitte said.

Cardin said yesterday that Congress will override President Bush's veto last month of a bill to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

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