July 21, 2006

Stem Cell Suburbs

An excellent piece by Jackie Calmes in today’s Wall Street Journal [subscription req'd]points to the importance of embryonic stem cell research as a political issue in a number of suburban races for the US House of Representatives. As the Republican Party has become more socially conservative, many suburban areas have become more socially diverse, politically independent, and less reliably Republican. Most polls indicate that a majority of Republicans support expanded stem cell research, which may make some conservative Republican legislators in suburban seats politically vulnerable. Democrats are trying hard to capitalize on this potential vulnerability by appealing to moderate Republicans and independents, who may not be comfortable with the Republican Party’s cultural conservatism.

Calmes’ story points to Illinois’ 6th Congressional District as an example of this conflict. This wealthy suburban Chicago district has been represented for over 30 years by Henry Hyde, a staunch foe of abortion and embryonic stem cell research. The race to replace Hyde pits Republican state senator Peter Roskam against Tammy Duckworth, an Army helicopter pilot who lost parts of both legs in combat in Iraq. Rostam has been a leader against state financing of embryonic stem cell research in the state legislature, while Duckworth is a strong stem cell research supporter. Republican margins in both Presidential and House campaigns have declined over the years in the district, and the race is now rated as among the closest in the country by several national political gurus, as seen here and here . Other suburban Republican politicians, including the local county Republican chair and the Republican party leader in the Illinois House of Representatives, have become embryonic stem cell research supporters, suggesting that being pro-stem cell isn’t politically hazardous in some Republican circles. Calmes also points to suburban districts in other states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, New Jersey, Colorado, and Washington where similar forces are at play. At least one Republican (in a suburban St Louis district) is running in a party primary on a platform that stresses public support for stem cell research.

Congressional elections are rarely about just one issue, and Rostam and other similarly situated Republicans may be able to win their elections by focusing on other issues besides stem cell research. The split in the Republican party over stem cells shows no signs of going away, however, and in some Congressional districts it may prove to be decisive.
Jim Fossett

View blog reactions

| More