October 31, 2006

Stem Cell Suburbs

We’ve written before about so-called “stem cell suburbs”, traditionally Republican suburban Congressional districts that are more socially liberal than the Republican party’s base. Democrats are mounting unexpectedly strong challenges in many such districts this fall and are pushing hard on support for embryonic stem cell research to appeal to independents and moderate Republicans who are uncomfortable with the national party’s social conservatism.

This article by Jodi Kantor in the New York Times over the weekend profiles another such district— the 8th District in Washington state (suburban Seattle), which is home to a large number of people who work at Microsoft and related technology companies. The district is wealthy, well-educated and economically conservative and has traditionally been a Republican stronghold. While the district narrowly went for Kerry in 2004, it has never elected a Democrat to Congress— Republican Jennifer Dunn represented the district for twelve years and was replaced in 2004 by Republican Dave Reichert, who came to local prominence as the sheriff who caught the Green River Killer.

The current Congressional campaign, however, is rated as a toss-up by most national political gurus. Democratic challenger Darcy Burner, a former Microsoft executive who has no prior political experience, is mounting a strong challenge to Reichert by capitalizing on popular discontent with national Republican positions on a variety of issues, including most prominently embryonic stem cell research. Kantor notes:

“This year, one issue incenses them (engineers and other professionals who live in the district) above all others: restrictions on embryonic stem cell research…It is a matter of concern across the country, even across parties. But for many engineers and their ilk, restriction of stem cell research is what gay marriage is to conservative Christians, a phenomenon so counter to their basic values that they cannot vote for anyone who supports it….for Bellevue (the major town in the district)’s professionals, science is not only a means of creating wealth but also an idealistic pursuit, the most promising way they know of improving the human condition”

Burner, a strong campaigner who has been endorsed by the major Seattle newspaper, has been criticizing Reichert as a strong supporter of the Bush Administration on a wide range of issues from the Iraq war and detention and trial of foreign detainees to global warming and the minimum wage. Reichert, who is well-liked and well funded, opposed the Bush Administration’s position on Terry Schiavo and in fact changed his position on embryonic stem cell research, voting in favor of the bill President Bush vetoed to expand federal research support. It remains to be seen if these positions are sufficient to keep him in office in what seems to be shaping up as a referendum on national political issues.
Jim Fossett
AMBI Federalism and Bioethics

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