Hopefuls Embrace Stem Cell Research
Friday, July 21, 2006
This week, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democratic Senate hopeful, visited the Potomac home of a 20-year-old quadriplegic to highlight the potential of federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
Yesterday, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democratic candidate for governor, visited the Catonsville home of a couple coping with Parkinson's to pledge more state money for the science.
The Republican incumbent, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has also been staking his claim to the issue in television ads suggesting that his support of such research is evidence that he "doesn't govern from the right or the left, but the center, where most of us are."
Stem cell research has emerged in Maryland this year as a litmus test of moderation, with candidates practically tripping over one another to let the public know about their support for a science that holds great promise for a range of debilitating conditions -- despite raising moral qualms in some quarters, including the White House.
Politicians touting their support "see themselves as fighting for people who are suffering from disease, and politically, that's a very powerful place to be standing," said Ronald Walters, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The issue was brought into sharper focus this week by President Bush's veto of a bill that would have lifted funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research -- which opponents say is tantamount to abortion because it involves the destruction of a human embryo.
Democrats seized on the development to question Ehrlich's commitment to state stem cell legislation passed this year, with advocate and former governor Harry R. Hughes saying Ehrlich's television ad "turns my stomach."
They also sought to highlight Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's awkward response to the issue throughout his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat.
Despite his opposition to abortion, Steele is trying to craft a moderate image in a state where a recent Washington Post poll found that 63 percent of voters questioned support legal abortion, and 35 percent oppose it. This year, Steele made headlines for comparing stem cell research to Nazi experimentation -- comments he later apologized for. And he did not appear eager to discuss the Bush veto.
During a radio interview yesterday, WBAL talk show host Ron Smith asked Steele whether he would vote to override a Bush veto if he was in the Senate. The listeners heard only static in response.
"Hello?" Smith said. "Are you there? Maybe not. We'll be back. And try to reestablish contact with Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele."
After the commercial break, Steele was back, but the question was not. Instead, talk turned to Steele's crime prevention initiatives. Later in the conversation, Smith did repeat the question, and Steele replied that he supports the president.