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Issue Drivers

Missouri Stem-Cell Initiative

Campaigns and chromosomes coming up. How much clout will women wield at the ballot box this year? Stick around. We never skirt the issues here from the NEWSROOM.

PHILLIPS: Grab the oven mitts. The closer we get midterm elections, political hot potatoes, gay marriage, stem cell research and lots of others get even hotter.

CNN's Candy Crowley looks at the power of single issues to divide and conquer at the ballot box.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeff McCaffrey was in the Air Force Academy, planning a military career, not a political one. That was before the car accident.

JEFF MCCAFFREY, STEM CELLS RESEARCH ADVOCATE: We want something better than these wheelchairs.

CROWLEY: Now he campaigns, not for someone, but for something.

MCCAFFREY: You know, when the doctor said, you know, you will never walk again, I -- I didn't believe him then, and I don't believe him now, and nor will I ever believe him. And that's because of stem cell research.

CROWLEY: McCaffrey is lending his name and hopes to push for a pro-stem cell amendment to the Constitution in Missouri, a state with a powerful and politically active base of religious conservatives.

ARCHBISHOP RAYMOND LEO BURKE, SAINT LOUIS ARCHDIOCESE: Let it not be upon our consciences that we participated in the violation of the right to life of our brothers and sisters according to the criterion of their size.

CROWLEY: Missouri's stem cell initiative is one of dozens of issues around the country being put to a vote this year. Gay marriage is on the ballot in eight states. At least 10 will vote on banning the government's right to seize property. Six states contemplate an increase in minimum wage. And three consider abortion proposals.

Call them race drivers, controversial issues that entice voters to the polls, in hopes they will also vote for a candidate.

ELIZABETH GARRETT, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: They have spillover effects. So, people who come to vote against same-sex marriage tend also to vote for the Republican candidates. People who feel intensely about the minimum wage -- tend to be labor unions, Democrats -- will vote for the Democrats.

CROWLEY: Stem cell could make the difference in a squeaker Missouri Senate race between Republican Incumbent Senator Jim Talent and challenger Claire McCaskill. The question is, who gets the spillover?

Talent says he personally opposes the initiative, but thinks voters should decide. She is all for it. And a majority of Missourians favor stem cell research. But is the initiative enough to get them to the polls?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The stem cell initiative, it's going to be on the ballot in November.

CROWLEY: Fairs and rallies and lots of campaign chatter are designed to pump up the volume.

TERRY RILEY, KANSAS CITY COUNCILMAN: The buzz is starting now in the barbershops and the beauty salons. People were saying, hey, man, I didn't know stem cell did that. It provides an opportunity for other -- cures for other things.

CROWLEY: Despite a split in his party over stem cell research, Jim Talent may benefit from the loudest buzz and the most passion, fueled by a national organization which galvanizes voters on social and moral issues.

REVEREND RICK SCARBOROUGH, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, VISION AMERICA: I am not afraid of losing an election. I am afraid of the church not showing up!

CROWLEY: The conservative base is out in force. The initiative has been the focus of rallies and the topic of discussion in churches.

REVEREND DOUG ZIMMERMAN, HARVEST COMMUNITY CHURCH: The fire wasn't burning before. But there was just a lot of excitement generated by that. The one guy said, "I have got 10 people I can tell." So, that's -- I think that's the idea behind it.

CROWLEY: The evidence suggests ballot initiatives drive up turn- out by about 1.5 percent; one way or another, enough to make a difference in Missouri.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: Well, the stem cell debate has only intensified since July. That's when President Bush issued his first and, so far, only veto, killing a bill that would have eased the federal funding restrictions.