Obama, McCain camps trade barbs on stem cells

The presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain lashed out at each other Tuesday over controversial research on embryonic stem cells.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden (Del.) started the battle with remarks at a rally in St. Louis.

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“I hear all this talk about how the Republicans are going to work in dealing with parents who have both the joy… and the difficulty of raising a child who has a developmental disability, who were born with a birth defect,” he said. “Well, guess what, folks? If you care about it, why don't you support stem cell research?” Biden said, according to CNN.com.

Though Sens. McCain (Ariz.), Obama (Ill.) and Biden all voted to lift President Bush’s current restrictions and expand federal funding on embryonic stem cell research, the Obama campaign sought to exploit concerns about McCain among stem cell advocates by portraying McCain as uncommitted to their cause.

The McCain campaign fired back, saying Biden’s comments were directed at GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, whose infant son has Down syndrome and who promised at the Republican National Convention to be an advocate for families with special-needs children.

“Barack Obama’s running mate sunk to a new low today launching an offensive debate over who cares more about special needs children,” McCain spokesman Ben Porritt said in a written statement to CBSNews.com. “Playing politics with this issue is disturbing and indicative of a desperate campaign,” Porritt said.

The Obama campaign shot back to defend Biden. “It’s simply insulting for [the McCain campaign] to suggest that raising a substantive difference on this critical issue is playing politics,” Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan said in a written statement. Biden did not mention Palin’s name, according to media accounts.

According to news reports, Palin opposes embryonic stem cell research, as do most politicians who oppose abortion rights, because the embryo is destroyed in the process. Scientists believe stem cells hold the key to cures to a plethora of diseases because they can theoretically be programmed to become practically any human cell. McCain also opposes abortion rights but is among a number of high-profile “pro-life” Republicans who support embryonic stem cell research, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah).

Noting that the official Republican Party platform adopted before the convention calls for a ban on embryonic stem cell research, Sevugan said in a written statement that “John McCain has adopted and promises to implement a Republican platform that takes an even more extreme position in opposing stem cell research than that of George Bush four years ago.”

Bush implemented a program of limited federal funding for the research but never called for restrictions on research funded through other means, such as from private organizations or state governments.

Presidential candidates historically have found themselves hamstrung by party platforms that do not align with their own stated views.

McCain’s voting record indicates that he favors embryonic stem cell research, and in March, The Washington Post report quoted him saying, “I have not changed my position yet.”

McCain’s campaign website does not mention embryonic stem cell research but highlights his support for non-controversial research on adult stem cells.

Nevertheless, stem cell advocates such as Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) have confessed to harboring doubts about McCain’s dedication on the issue as he tries to secure the conservative voting bloc for his campaign. “The question becomes: Will the pro-life movement be able to persuade him otherwise between now and the election?” Castle told The Hill last month.