Many voters did not read fine print on stem-cell iniative

Jonathan Garthwaite
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Posted: Nov 09, 2006 12:15 PM
Many voters did not read fine print on stem-cell iniative

While the media cover the power shift in Washington, D.C., the rise of San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi to Madame Speaker, and gloat that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld finally got the boot they had been clamoring for since nearly his first day, another story has received limited coverage and slipped from the front page as quickly as it appeared.

By the slimmest of margins, Missourians passed Amendment 2, which puts a protective bubble around embryonic stem-cell research, prohibits future regulations, and even creates a loophole so biotech companies can research cloning technologies similar to how "Dolly the sheep" was created.

Close elections aren't anything new. In fact, they seem to be the norm these days. But the road that Amendment 2 traveled to passage is not something that social conservatives should ignore.

Back in September, pro-life activists in Missouri were worried. A constitutional amendment was on the ballot that would endorse and protect embryonic stem-cell research and open the door to cloning, and nobody was talking about it. They were worried because Missouri citizens weren't reading the fine print.

The combination of the destruction of living embryos and the threat of a future with cloning should have been enough to turn voters away from the ballot initiative, but the crafters of the amendment were very calculating in their wording.

Proponents of the measure had worded the ballot question to cause voters to believe they were voting for restrictions on the most controversial form of research and a ban on cloning, and the bait-and-switch was working.

The pro-Amendment 2 supporters even had former Republican Sen. John Danforth on their side. Public polls at the time showed approval for the measure at more than 60 percent. It was headed to an easy victory.

Nationally, very few activists or pundits were talking about the ballot question, and the proponents of the measure were hoping to coast quietly into Election Day.

Fortunately, in the closing month of the campaign, national activists took notice and began to take action.

Publications like Townhall.com started publicizing the fine print, and support started to wane.

Michael J. Fox then took to the airwaves in support of the measure during an ad for Democratic Senate challenger Claire McCaskill.

Rush Limbaugh took on Fox directly, questioning whether Fox was overplaying his symptoms from Parkinson's disease.

And just like that, it was a national issue. Stem-cell research is an emotional issue, and the debate was loud.

The conservative grass-roots got involved with phone banks, e-mail campaigns, and YouTube video commercials in the last few weeks and made a large impact.

But ultimately, it was too late.

When the results were announced, late on Election Night, embryonic stem-cell research won in Missouri by the slimmest margins: 51 percent to 49 percent.

It wasn't early enough — but by Election Night, Missourians were finally waking up to the reality of what they were voting for.

In the end, the larger Democratic wave that swept Democrats into power in the House and likely the Senate — and McCaskill into the Missouri Senate seat — was simply too great a force to withstand.

In exit polls, support and opposition to the measure seemed to break down along similar lines to that of the political candidates.

One group that did not oppose the measure, in significant numbers, was Protestants, illustrating how even the most ardent pro-life voters were still being lured in by the measure's deceptive language.

Despite the loss, conservative activists learned several things.

Conservatives must get active earlier, as just a few extra days campaigning against the measure might have made the difference. They must also not give up fighting on the embryonic stem-cell research issue as it moves across the country.

This won't be the last time it's a voting issue, and when it appears on another state's ballot, conservatives must get to work early.

Support for this extreme and largely ineffective form of stem-cell research is not nearly as strong as first believed, and when voters are fully informed, they won't be fooled by tricky legalese and celebrity endorsements.

Missouri was a wake-up call and conservatives need to be ready next time.