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Stem cell scorecard

Tuesday's election results certainly sent a powerful message to President Bush about his policy on Iraq - but on the scientific front, there was also a strong message sent in support of embryonic stem cell research. And Gail Pressberg, one of the authors of an upcoming book on the stem cell debate, says that message just might reverberate in the Oval Office as well.

"One has to wonder what his attitude will be now," Pressberg told me today.

Pressberg and Pam Solo, the authors of "Stem Cell Research: Promise and Politics,"  tracked 25 races where the issue played a role - ranging from Missouri's constitutional amendment on embryonic stem cell research to congressional and gubernatorial matchups across the country. The outcomes were sometimes close, but the supporters of such research had something to cheer about in at least 16 of the 25 contests: 

  • Missouri delivered narrow victories for Amendment 2 as well as a Senate bid by Democrat Claire McCaskill, a supporter of the stem cell measure.
  • Five of six other Senate candidates who made their support of the research into a prominent campaign issue are apparent winners, including Maryland's Ben Cardin, Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, New Jersey's Bob Menendez, Ohio's Sherrod Brown and Montana's Jon Tester. The Virginia race is still too close to call, although pro-research Democrat Jim Webb has claimed victory.
  • In three gubernatorial races where stem cells were a prominent issue, the pro-research Democrats all won: Wisconsin's Jim Doyle, Iowa's Chet Culver and Michigan's Jennifer Granholm.
  • Solo and Pressberg also followed 15 House races where the issue was prominent. The pro-research candidates won seven races and lost four, with four considered too close to call as of Wednesday morning.

So what's next? "There are different 'next steps' in different states," Pressberg told me. Iowa and Michigan might ease legislative limits on research, and Missouri might provide a friendlier environment for privately funded research.

On the federal level, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who's likely to become House speaker, has promised that legislation to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research will be reintroduced, even though Bush vetoed such a measure earlier this year.

Then there's 2008: Pressberg noted that pro-research activists in Florida are already working on their own stem cell amendment for the next election cycle, and there are plans for ballot measures in Georgia and Kentucky as well. On the national level, the issue will be just as prominent, if not more so, as the presidential campaign heats up.