By Jeffrey Young - 08/16/06 12:00 AM EDT
When freshman Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) split with his predecessor Jim Greenwood (R) by twice voting against embryonic-stem-cell research, it prompted insinuations by Democrats and speculation in the Pennsylvania media about internal strife among Bucks County Republicans.
But in a recent interview with The Hill, Greenwood refuted notions of friction with the man who replaced him.
President Bush’s veto last month of legislation expanding federal funding for the research offered Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy another opportunity to highlight the more conservative views of Fitzpatrick compared with former six-term lawmaker Greenwood, who remains a popular figure in the district.
Murphy, who supports embryonic-stem-cell research, argues that Fitzpatrick’s break with Greenwood suggests a gulf between the incumbent’s views and the mores of voters in his district, which traditionally has favored centrist Republicans in congressional races but has backed Democratic presidential candidates in the last four elections.
Fitzpatrick’s campaign and Greenwood himself deny any discontent among local Republicans over the stem-cells issue. Greenwood says he has attended campaign functions with Fitzpatrick both in Pennsylvania and in the D.C. area.
Greenwood, now president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), also has put corporate money where his mouth is. During the current election cycle, BIO’s PAC has given $3,000 to Fitzpatrick’s campaign.
Democrats view stem-cell research as demonstrative of the Republican party’s distance from the majority of Americans. Embryonic-stem-cell research is supported by most Democratic and Republican voters, polls have shown, and Bush’s decision to issue his first-ever veto on a popular bill has allowed Democrats to portray the issue as emblematic of Republicans being out of touch with the public.
Democrats hope to appeal to the centrist social views of Republican voters in suburban areas like Pennsylvania’s 8th district to help them recapture the House and make gains in the Senate.
“I think it’s one of the top issues,” Murphy said. “It shows clearly why we need a change in direction in this country.”
Murphy’s position on stem cells associates him with Greenwood, who represents the type of centrist Republican historically favored by the district.
When Greenwood announced in July 2004 that he would retire from Congress to take over at BIO, he endorsed the last-minute candidacy of Fitzpatrick, then a Bucks County commissioner.
Greenwood endorsed Fitzpatrick despite their divergent views on abortion rights and embryonic-stem-cell research. On the latter issue, Greenwood said Fitzpatrick promised to keep an “open mind.”
After taking office, Fitzpatrick held fast to his moral opposition to the research, which disappointed Greenwood. “It’s obviously not BIO’s view; it’s not my view,” Greenwood said.
But Fitzpatrick’s campaign, along with Greenwood, sought to downplay the importance of stem-cell research in the race.
The attention the matter has gotten is “campaign-generated,” and not the result of a groundswell among 8th district voters, said Patricia Wandling, the communications director for the Fitzpatrick campaign.
“Things are moving so fast,” Wandling said. “I think now we’re back to the war in Iraq,” the issue that Iraq veteran Murphy has made the centerpiece of his challenge. Wandling also speculated that this week’s terrorism scare would refocus voters’ minds on security.
Greenwood sought to deemphasize the influence of embryonic-stem-cell research on BIO’s support for congressional candidates.
Greenwood said that stem-cell research is only one issue that matters to BIO’s member companies, though the association did lobby Congress on the bill. Because few companies are engaged in the research and because commercial applications for embryonic stem cells are years away, Greenwood said, BIO is also focused on other, more pressing issues.
Fitzpatrick is a supporter of legislation to promote biotech companies’ access to small-business research and development grants, for example, Greenwood said. Although some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country are BIO members, many biotechnology companies are startups in dire need of capital. The incumbent also sits on the influential Financial Services Committee as well as the Small Business Committee.
BIO’s PAC has given $89,000 to 59 congressional candidates – all incumbents — during the current election cycle, according to figures from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics. Thirty-one of the recipients of the PAC’s money voted for the stem-cell bill while 28 voted against it. Thirty-five Republicans received 61 percent of the contributions and 24 Democrats received the remainder.