The Cook Political Report lists six incumbent GOP Senators as being in competitive ’06 re-election races: Conrad Burns (MT), Lincoln Chafee (RI), Mike DeWine (OH), John Kyl (AZ), Rick Santorum (PA) and Jim Talent (MO). A seventh, George Allen (VA), Cook considers potentially competitive.
Yet when faced with a vote on stem cell research — which enjoys support from a majority of Americans and some leading GOP pols, but is fervently opposed by fringe fundamentalist leaders — almost all of them chose to bow down to James Dobson and Tony Perkins instead of the public.
(The lone exception was Chafee, a social moderate representating a liberal state.)
This is actually fairly surprising.
As LiberalOasis has previously noted, several top Republicans have recognized that completely opposing stem cell research isn’t a tenable position, and have awkwardly tried to create a nuanced middle ground — supporting research in certain cases, banning funding in key areas.
In particular, both Jim Talent and George Allen have tried to inch away from the hard Right.
But both have been spooked back into submission.
So far, Talent’s waffling has made more local headlines, and has become more of a campaign issue, than Allen’s.
But Allen’s campaign against Jim Webb has only recently begun, and Webb appears interested in making stem cell research a defining issue.
The political calculation by all these embattled GOP senators is that the fringe fundamentalist leadership can be counted on to turnout votes, and that swing voters are less likely to base their votes on stem cells.
It’s a hell of a risk.
The fringe fundamentalists spun wildly after the ’04 election that they made the difference for Dubya.
But while a lot of folks bought it, the data don’t show it.
Nevertheless, that’s where the scared GOPers have put their chips. We’ll see soon enough if it pays off.