ROCHESTER, MN—In a major policy address at the Mayo Clinic Tuesday, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry drew a sharp distinction between himself and President Bush by championing unfettered scientific exploration of embryonic stem cells, which experts say could hold the cure to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and Kerry's ailing campaign.
"The possibilities are limitless, both for science and my campaign," said Kerry, who enjoyed a bump in the polls after the debates but is still struggling to secure a lead over Bush. "If adequately funded, stem-cell researchers might find cures for hundreds of diseases, from diabetes to cancer. And, if the nation would focus on my opponent's ideological extremism, I might get elected."
In 2001, the Bush administration placed limits on federal funding for stem-cell research. This move was applauded by many religious conservatives, who oppose stem-cell research because it requires the harvesting of stem-cell lines from human embryos.
"For too long, President Bush has curtailed science on ideological grounds, for his own political purposes," Kerry said. "I pledge to support science on rational grounds, for my own political purposes. Stem-cell research could improve the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans, and the issue could dramatically increase my popularity. We must push the boundaries of scientific exploration now, before Nov. 2."
"My opponent has put the interests of a vocal minority over the needs of me, my campaign staff, and John Edwards," Kerry added. "That is just wrong."
According to Democratic strategist Stanley Greenberg, stem-cell research is not universally opposed by Republicans. In fact, many opponents of abortion support stem-cell research. Greenberg said careful research into the voting patterns of moderates and swing voters may provide the "golden key" to using the stem-cell issue to advance Kerry's campaign.
"Studies show that nearly 80 percent of voters support stem-cell research," Greenberg said. "A full 206 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 58 members of the Senate have urged Bush to lift federal funding restrictions on stem-cell lines. Kerry's campaign managers can't ignore this potentially campaign-changing data."
Greenberg said stem-cell research could hold tremendous promise for other politicians, as well.
"Stem-cell research might unlock cures for many of the afflictions that face hundreds of Democratic political candidates, right down to the state level," Greenberg said. "That is, if they were lucky enough to find the right campaign ad."
Ravi Dubad, a professor of political science at Rutgers, said that, in spite of the "enormous potential" of stem-cell research, the media have yet to adequately explore it.
"The issue received only limited attention during the Democratic Convention in July—when Ronald Reagan Jr. spoke out in its favor—and again, with the recent death of Christopher Reeve," Dubad said. "But I believe the area of stem-cell research could provide thousands, if not millions, of sound bites. It's important for Kerry to raise these issues in debates and stump speeches. But, in order to really make a difference, people outside of the scientific and political communities must get involved, as well."
Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards, however, said candidates should focus on those who are suffering most.
"Scientific exploration in this field holds immense promise for the millions of Americans who are afflicted with genetic diseases or are members of the Democratic party," Edwards said. "Stem-cell research may be the last, best hope for those suffering under diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and the Bush administration."
Continued Edwards: "Senator Kerry and I pledge to support stem-cell research as a part of our plan to put America on the path to scientific excellence. And, as a part of our plan to win this election, we will begin to talk more often, and more succinctly, about how we pledge to support stem-cell research."