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DCCC Begins Stem-Cell Web Push

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee thinks promoting stem-cell research can be a winning issue for Democrats in House races next year.

On Wednesday, the DCCC launched an Internet initiative, taking to task Republican Members who voted against a bill aimed at promoting federal stem-cell research funding earlier this month.

The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act passed May 24, 238-194, with several Republicans defying President Bush and voting to expand the number of embryonic stem-cell lines that can be used in federally funded research.

“Members of both parties came together in the face of fierce opposition to defy President Bush’s stifling limitations,” the DCCC said Wednesday in a news release announcing the Internet effort. “Republican opposition to this potentially life-saving research shows just how out-of-touch Republican are with the interests of American families.”

The only problem with the DCCC making an all-out push on stem-cell research is that 14 Democrats — an unusual mix of liberals and conservatives — opposed the measure.

Democrats as diverse as Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) and Gene Taylor (Miss.) opposed the bill. The only seeming commonality among them is that 10 of the 14 are Roman Catholics.

Kaptur, who is Catholic, said she voted against the bill because she thinks it did not build in enough guidelines for federally funded research, but said that she is open to supporting a measure that sets strict standards.

Sarah Feinberg, a DCCC spokeswoman, said the committee is not going after its own, but said Democratic leaders are comfortable with the Internet campaign, as the majority of Democrats supported the bill.

“An entire Caucus is not going to be together on every vote,” Feinberg said. “Republicans lost Republicans on the Medicare vote [to expand prescription drug coverage], some tax cut votes, the parental notification [for abortions] bill and on the gay marriage ban.”

Feinberg said that 74 percent of Americans surveyed in a recent Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive poll support embryonic stem-cell research.

“There are a few extremist Republicans who are voting in ways very much different from their districts,” Feinberg said, noting that freshman Rep. Dave Reichert, who represents a swing suburban Seattle district and freshman Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick from the Philadelphia area are two Members who could find their stance out-of-step back home.

But Kaptur questioned the DCCC effort.

“I think that though it’s an important question, the DCCC would be better suited to use the energy to try to perfect the bill rather than devoting their energies to using it politically,” she said.

Kaptur said she does not think stem-cell research is a frontburner issue, either.

“Most of the public is worried about jobs and the economy,” she said.

Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said DCCC leaders are reading too much into current polls showing a majority of Americans disapprove of Congress overall but not with their individual Congressmen.

“That seems to be in direct contrast to what the DCCC is saying — that there’s some sort of groundswell against incumbents because of their votes recently,” Forti said.

Feinberg said Republicans should not be so complacent, as the poll numbers are very similar to surveys taken right before the 1994 Republican takeover of the House.

Forti also doubts that Democrats are serious about the current effort on stem-cell research.

“This is the same old approach of throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what will stick,” he said, noting Democrats said that ethics would be a defining issue of the 2006 campaigns just last week.

Feinberg said the DCCC intends to keep up pressure on the stem-cell issue but that the committee has not yet made decisions about buying television or radio airtime on the subject.

“We’re absolutely trying to raise the profile of this issue,” she said, adding that having Members send e-mails and asking voters to share their personal stories about the need for stem-cell research “is the easiest way to communicate with hundreds of thousands of people.

“We think it will be a big issue next year … all of that stuff [ads] could certainly come later.”

Forti said a Web-based initiative does not worry him.

“Unless they’re going to put 1,500 [advertising] points a week in a Congressional district behind it they can waste all the time on gimmicks they want,” Forti said. “Gimmicks don’t win races candidates and money do and right now they are struggling with both.”

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