Moderate GOPers In Tough Spot Over Stem Cell Research

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Democrats are sounding increasingly confident they can work out a bipartisan legislative fix to get around a judge’s order halting all stem cell research, but in an election year where everything matters, are moderate Republicans really going to go along with the majority party? And might that cost one GOPer his Senate bid?

The two clearest examples are Republican Senate candidates Rep. Mark Kirk (IL) and Rep. Mike Castle (DE), who Democrats told TPM last week they expect to continue to support embryonic stem cell research as they have before.

But Castle is locked in a tough and nasty fight with Christine O’Donnell, a tea party favorite who is looking to become the next conservative insurgent to topple the establishment’s pick. With the O’Donnell campaign targeting evangelical voters in advance of a Sept. 14 primary that could have fewer than 50,000 voters, this could be the issue to turn the race.“This is going to be bigger than Mike Castle had hoped,” Jason McGuire, a senior O’Donnell consultant who works to woo evangelical voters, told TPM in an interview. McGuire said the court ruling pushes the stem cell issue to the forefront right as the primary concludes and believes that will help O’Donnell with religious voters.

“The question is being raised, it’s out there,” he said.

Like the plaintiffs in the stem cell case (profiled by TPM here), O’Donnell believes adult stem cell research is delivering results and is the moral and fiscally responsible choice. She opposes embryonic stem cell research, an issue Castle has championed, earning him praise from Democrats over the years.

Castle’s campaign didn’t return TPM’s calls, but his Web site still boasts his support of stem cell research:

A leader in advancing biomedical research, Mike has been recognized nationwide for his work to advance stem cell research and his support of the National Institute of Health, critical in the fight to end diabetes and cancer, among other debilitating diseases.

Chris Coons will be the Democratic nominee in this race for the seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden. If Castle wins the GOP nod, stem cell research isn’t likely to be a factor in the general election.

“Chris and Congressman Castle are closely aligned on this issue,” Christy Gleason, Coons’ campaign manager, told TPM. She said Coons is very concerned about the court ruling and favors embryonic stem cell research as a way to find lifesaving cures for disease.

Meanwhile, O’Donnell operatives are telling voters that Castle is “pro-human-cloning.” Her campaign manager Matt Moran told Politico that Castle votes like a Democrat, and mocked the Congressman:

“It’s kind of obscene how they’ve been pimping this 70-year-old bad heart Republican. We just want a fair primary,” he said. “Where does he get his passion from? There aren’t enough F-minuses from the NRA Republicans in Delaware. There aren’t enough pro-human-cloning Republicans in Delaware.”

There is no TPM Poll Average of the primary because there is so little polling, but Castle holds a 47.6-36.3 lead over Coons in a general election matchup.

A poll done for a group that does tea party organizing found O’Donnell leading Castle.

As for Illinois, Kirk already won his primary, so joining with Democrats could actually help him woo general election voters. Maybe.

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