Missouri voters have narrowly approved a measure sanctioning embryonic stem cell research in the state. The amendment to the state constitution received 51% of yesterday's vote after supporters waged a $30 million advertising campaign that included celebrities such as Michael J. Fox. Elsewhere, three governors who had backed stem cell research in their states won re-election, while one of the biggest congressional opponents of their use--U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)--was trounced.
"I'm very proud of Missouri," says Steve Teitelbaum, a Washington University bone pathologist who has campaigned on the grassroots level around the state for years on the issue. He predicts that the small but potent research community of universities and biotech companies centered in St. Louis and Kansas City will benefit from passage of the amendment--which prevents lawmakers from barring work on embryonic stem cells while criminalizing cloning with the goal of reproduction--as will patients. "It's going to energize the biotech community," he says.
Opponents took heart from having come so close after September polls showed them trailing by 20 percentage points. "The amendment was sold to the public on the basis of cures. It's going to be interesting to see what happens if those are not forthcoming," said Barbara Quigley, executive director of the Missouri-based pro-life Center for Bioethics and Culture, which joined the opposition.
The attention to Amendment 2 appears to have helped Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill win a Senate seat over the incumbent Republican, Jim Talent. Her campaign made national headlines with an advertisement featuring Fox attacking her opponent for opposition to the research.
The issue had national resonance as well. Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, a Democrat, also campaigned hard on his support of stem cells in a successful bid for reelection. Likewise, governors Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois kept their jobs as well.
In congressional races, Maryland Republican Michael Steele, who opposed research using embryos, lost to Democrat Ben Cardin. In an open seat in Pennsylvania, Democrat Patrick Murphy defeated Michael Fitzpatrick, a Republican who had opposed the research. At the same time, Democrat Chris Bell pushed for stem cell research but lost in a bid for Texas governorship and physician Victoria Wulsin was trailing her Republican opponent for an Ohio House seat in a campaign in which she had emphasized her support for stem cell research.
Teitelbaum says the new Democrat majority in the U.S. House could bolster efforts to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research beyond the limits that President George W. Bush laid down in 2001. But Bush vetoed such a bill last summer, and the conservative leanings of many of the new Democrats raise a cautionary note to those who would like to see a new push in the 110th Congress that convenes in January.