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Missouri Race May Hinge on Stem-Cell Opinions

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Senator Jim Talent has answered a question that's been hanging in Missouri for months. Yesterday the Republican Senator announced he's opposing a ballot initiative that would protect stem cell research in the state. Stem cell research has emerged as an important issue in Talent's bid for reelection. But as NPR's Greg Allen reports from Kansas City, some in Missouri are wondering whether his opposition will help him or hurt him.

GREG ALLEN: For Talent it's a tough choice. Polls show that a large majority of Missourians and people across the country, support stem cell research, even when it uses cloning. And Jim Talent is in a tight race. Recent polls show him even with, or slightly behind opponent Democratic Claire McCaskill. And McCaskill has been using the stem cell issue and the ballot initiative against Talent. In Missouri it's pro-life groups that have been leading the opposition to the incentive. They say the use of cloning to produce stone cells for research is morally wrong, and for months they've been asking Senator Talent, long a key ally, to make his position clear.

LARRY WEBER: We've very happy that Senator Talent has stepped out and taken a position.

ALLEN: Larry Weber is the head of the Missouri Catholic Conference. He says yesterday's announcement should help clear the air between Talent and pro-life groups. Things have been tense since February when he seemed to be changing his long-time opposition to the use of cloning in stem cell research. In a speech on the Senate floor, Talent announced he was removing his name from an anti- cloning bill brought by Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback.

WEBER: Many of Senator Talent's supporters counted on him to stand up for the dignity and sanctity of all human life, and they were very disappointed when he originally stepped away from the Brownback Bill. I think those same supporters, though, are going to be very pleased to see that he has stepped out in opposition to this amendment.

ALLEN: Missouri is home to institutions actively involved in stem cell research. Kansas City Stowers Institute and Washington University in St. Louis to name two. Those organizations, along with hospitals, patient groups and business leaders formed a coalition with one goal in mind, to pass a constitutional amendment that would stop Missouri's legislature from adopting bills that would ban cloning even when used in stem cell research. Yesterday, just hours before Talent's announcement, the coalition announced it had twice the signatures it needs to put that measure on the ballot in November. And Don Reuben, chairman of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures says he doesn't expect Talent's opposition to make a difference.

DON REUBEN: We don't think voters make up their minds on an important issue like this one based on what one politician says.

ALLEN: Many here in Missouri believe the real impact of Talent's announcement will be on his own reelection race. He has yet to explain how he squares his new position with his rejection of the federal Brownback Cloning Ban and today Talent wasn't available for comment. The McCaskill campaign is already yelling flip-flop, and Ken Warren a professor of political science at St. Louis University, says Talent's opposition to a popular ballot measure is likely to hurt him in November.

KEN WARREN: Jim Talent's position on stem cell research might just cause him to lose in a close election. But on the other hand, Jim Talent has to raise money and where does this money come from? A lot of this money will come from conservative Republican groups that are against stem cell research.

ALLEN: By opposing the amendment Warren says Talent can now depend not just on the volunteers and grass roots support from social conservatives, but also their money. And in a tight Senate race, clearly money is something Jim Talent is going to need.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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