In the final run-up to the US presidential election on 2 November, both candidates have been heavily campaigning, including on the issue of embryonic stem cell (ES) research. Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry promises to abandon the restrictions placed on ES cell research by Bush in 2001. Bush's policy limits federally-funded researchers in the US to working only on ES cell lines already in existence by 9 August 2001. Many scientists believe that there are too few of these lines and that those cell lines available have limited usefulness. They say that ES cell research in the US is less advanced than it could be, although American scientists are free to create new cell lines using private funds.
Republicans, including Bush, have accused the Kerry campaign of over-emphasising the potential of ES cells. Bush's position is that the destruction of early embryos - necessary to derive ES cells - is the destruction of human life. Kerry was supported by the late Christopher Reeve, who campaigned for the use of ES cells in spinal injury research. Actor Michael J Fox, a Parkinson's disease sufferer, and a number of other famous names, including Nancy Reagan, also support Kerry. The Bush campaign has also criticised Kerry for saying that the President 'banned' ES cell research with federal money, insisting that Bush is the first president ever to fund such research. But, say the Democrats, while Bush may have granted the first funds, the policy was put in place by his predecessor, Bill Clinton.
Republican Senator Arlen Specter, campaigning for re-election to the Senate on 2 November, has 'veered into lonely territory for a Republican', by publicly announcing his support for ES cell research in the days before the election. National opinion polls have tended to show a majority of people in favour of ES cell research and he is hoping to use this to influence the votes. But commentators warn that he - and Kerry - risk 'alienating some conservative voters who have ethical concerns about the science'.
ES cell research is also a hot topic in Californian state elections, which take place on the same day as the presidential elections. According to a poll released on Sunday 31 October, over half of those likely to vote in state elections in California are in favour of Proposition 71, a bill that would provide $3 billion of funding for ES cell research in the state over the next ten years. The bill, also known as the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, will, if passed, make California the first US state to publicly fund ES cell research. It would provide $295 million in state funds annually, over the ten year period, to Californian universities, institutes and companies wishing to conduct ES cell research, subject to certain limits. Proposition 71 would also create a 29-member panel to determine how the funds would be administered. The latest poll shows 54 per cent of voters in favour of the measure, with 37 per cent opposed and 9 per cent undecided. Support is far higher among Democrats than Republicans.