Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns
AT THE 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, the topic of stem cell research received top billing in a prime-time speech by the son of former president Ronald Reagan.
A few of you may be surprised to see someone with my last name showing
up to speak at a Democratic convention. Let me assure you, I am not here
to make a political speech…. I am here tonight to talk about the issue of
research into what may be the greatest medical breakthrough in our or in
any lifetime: the use of embryonic stem cells.1
Network news coverage of the nominating conventions reached an alltime low in 2004, dropping from twenty-six hours of coverage in 1976 to a measly three hours in 2004, so Ronald Prescott Reagan's speech appeared during an especially coveted and carefully scripted time slot. With the United States embroiled in a controversial war in the Middle East and the economy faltering, why would the Democrats prioritize a “nonpolitical” speech about stem cell research?
The answer points to the heart of contemporary electoral contests. Democrats emphasized their support of stem cell research during the convention and later in stump speeches and campaign mail because they believed the issue offered them an advantage among Independents and Republicans who disagreed with President Bush's policy limiting it. Democratic pollster Peter Hart explained that the issue of stem cell research had the potential to “attract support from disease sufferers and families who otherwise agree with Bush on public policy but feel 'alienated' by his decision to restrict federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.”2 Republican pollster Robert Moran offered a similar assessment, “This is not an issue you can run and hide from. … If this is going to negatively impact President Bush, it will likely be in places like the Philadelphia suburbs, where you have moderate swing-voting economic conservatives.”3 Ron Reagan's highly touted
1 Full transcript of the speech was published by the New York Times, 27 July 2004, Al.
2 Ceci Connolly, “Kerry Takes on Issue of Embryo Research; Campaign Broadens
Challenge to Include President's Commitment to Science,” Washington Post, 8 August
3 Ibid., “Stem Cell Proponents Enter Campaign Fray,” Washington Post, 26 July 2004, All.