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Politics: The Sleepers

Iraq weighs on voters' minds, but a set of wedge issues could help tip the scales.

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Stem Sell: Fox's ad stirred a new debate over stem-cell resarch

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Politics: The Sleepers

Wedge Issues May Tip the Scales

• Stem Cells

• Gay Marriage

• The Right to Die

• Abortion


Updated: 1:43 a.m. ET Oct 29, 2006

Nov. 6, 2006 issue - All politics is local, except when it isn't. Next week Americans will head to the polls with national and international issues on their minds. Chief among them: Iraq, the top issue for 29 percent of voters in the NEWSWEEK Poll (the largest percentage for any issue, followed by the economy at 21 percent). Democrats, the party preferred by 53 percent of voters to control Congress, seem poised for big gains. But a host of sleeper social issues, including abortion, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research will keep campaign 2006 interesting to the end.



In Missouri, the Fox Effect

When Michael J. Fox picked up the phone early last Tuesday morning he was greeted by his mother, in a fury. Two days before, Fox had appeared in a television advertisement for Democratic Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill. Fox, the actor stricken with Parkinson's disease, was supporting McCaskill and other Democratic candidates because of their support for research on embryonic stem cells. Now Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-radio host, was accusing Fox of "exaggerating the effects of the disease" in order to secure sympathy. How could Limbaugh be so cruel, Fox's mother wanted to know. Fox told her Limbaugh wasn't getting to him. "I have four kids," he later told NEWSWEEK. "I have to set an example on how you deal with bullies."

For a moment last week, Fox and Limbaugh made stem-cell research the premier topic in campaign 2006, no small feat for any issue that isn't Iraq or a sex scandal. "We wanted to make sure [stem cells] were at the forefront in the campaign," he says. "That we're talking about this 11 days before the election is just phenomenal."

But back in Missouri, Fox's candidate claimed she hadn't been following the fracas. Were stem cells one of her top five priorities? "That [is] a mean question to ask!" she replied, indicating she'd rather not say. If she sounded a bit tepid, it's because no one in Missouri seems to know quite how stem cells are going to play this year. Next week, when voters choose between McCaskill and Jim Talent, the Republican incumbent, they'll also vote on an amendment to the state's constitution guaranteeing protection for federally sanctioned stem-cell research. Critics say it creates a legal foundation for the cloning of human embryos and the destruction of innocent life. After Fox's ad hit the airwaves, opponents of the measure struck back with their own celebrity-filled ad. Most memorable: James Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ," opening the ad in lilting ancient Aramaic. It was a day or so before Caviezel's words were translated as "You betray the Son of Man with a kiss." But his intended message was instantly apparent: conservative Christians, come and vote.

If they do, in large numbers, it could spell trouble for McCaskill, who has trailed Talent in recent polls. But Talent himself seems in no rush to step forward as the face of stem-cell foes, mindful that embryonic research splits conservatives—some of whom protest the use of human embryos, while others champion the prospect of cures. (Talent's campaign did not respond to requests for a comment.)

Missouri is a bellwether: a McCaskill win could push candidates in future races to champion stem cells on the stump. In the meantime Fox is doing plenty of pushing on his own. This week he'll travel to Iowa, Ohio and Virginia to stump for supporters of the research. The political arena exacerbates his Parkinson's symptoms, but Fox refuses to slow down. "I'm tired of having my hope qualified as false," he says. "We've reached a point where this can happen now if people get their votes right."

—Jonathan Darman with Lee Hudson

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