Video: Michael J. Fox’s moral blackmail?

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updated 10/30/2006 12:15:47 PM ET 2006-10-30T17:15:47

Actor Michael J. Fox ignited a political firestorm earlier this week when he appeared on the small screen to make a pitch for stem-cell research, bringing national attention to an issue that's taking center stage in middle America.

In Missouri, the controversial topic has become a wedge issue on the Nov. 7 ballot. Should Amendment 2 to the state's constitution pass, "Missouri patients and researchers" will have "access to any method of stem-cell research, therapies and cures permitted under federal law.... banning human cloning or attempted cloning."

The Midwestern swing state is also home to what may be considered the marquee race in the battle for Senate control this year, and the candidates' stances on stem-cell research could prove to be the deciding factor. In an emotional appeal that shows Fox visibly affected by Parkinson's disease, the actor encourages viewers to elect Democrat Claire McCaskill because of her support of the research. Using what McCaskill told MSNBC was Fox's own script, Fox also criticizes her opponent for failing to support it.

Missouri Sen. Jim Talent's (R) spokesman Rich Chrismer confirmed on Wednesday that Talent supports the research as long as it "doesn't involve cloning or destroying a human embryo." His position on the issue is not readily available on his campaign Web site or his official Senate page, but the ideological debate concerning the morality of embryonic stem-cell research has proved to be treacherous ground for Talent this year.

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Fox's struggle with Parkinson's is readily visible in McCaskill's ad, which prompted conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh to tell listeners of his syndicated radio show that Fox was either unmedicated or acting when he filmed the McCaskill spot. Limbaugh later issued an apology, and Fox today said he was actually over-medicated in the ad.

The latest response is from Missourians Against Human Cloning, which responded with an ad  of its own on Thursday night during Game 4 of the World Series. A collection of sports and movie stars counter Fox's spot, arguing that there's a subtext to the ballot measure that includes loopholes and asserts "low-income women will be seduced by big checks" from fertility clinics asking them for eggs. Although the ad skips mention of the Show Me State's Senate race, the issue may pull voters to the polls.

Neither candidate, however, has established a solid lead yet, and each is on top in some of the most recent independent polls. It may be too early to tell how the fallout from the national attention to the Missouri commercials may affect either side.

The same may be true of the Tennessee Senate race, where some pundits and strategists have denounced a spot from the Republican National Committee attacking Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) as sleazy and racially nuanced. A white actress posing as a Playboy bunny squeals, "I met Harold at the Playboy party," and the spot ends with her telling him to call her.

Republican opponent Bob Corker's communications director, Todd Womack, cranked out a handful of statements to the media in the past week that claimed the campaign team was unhappy with the ad, and that it was "not reflective of the campaign." Many of the statements requested Tennessee TV stations to pull the ad from their rotations; the RNC refused to do so until Wednesday, after the commercial had been on the air for several days.

Now the RNC is running an ad  that alleges Ford voted to "give the abortion pill to our school children" and "to recognize gay marriage" -- two claims the congressman vehemently denies.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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