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Stem Cell and the Senate--Limbaugh Weighs In

The camera is still. It's the actor who is moving in a jittery fashion.

Michael J. Fox, fighting a well-publicized battle with Parkinson's disease, is lending his halting but powerful voice to the U.S. campaign of Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin, because of the Democrat's support for embryonic stem cell research.

The television ad that began airing last night bears witness to the popular actor's unmistakable decline from Parkinson's disease, and harnesses that physical degeneration into a political message about the differing views held by Cardin and Republican opponent Michael S. Steele on stem cell research. (Read his profile here.)

In addition to the Cardin ad, Fox filmed 30-second spots for Missouri senate candidate Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who is seeking to unseat Republican Jim Talent, and for Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, who is seeking reelection. He has also made plans to appear at events for two Democrats, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Tammy Duckworth, a candidate for congress in Illinois.

"He wants to take on races, and get involved in races that involve a pro stem cell candidate against an anti embryonic stem cell candidate," said John Rogers, a publicist for Fox.

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh accused Fox of exaggerating the symptom of his illness for dramatic effect. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act," Limbaugh told listerners this afternoon. "This is the only time I've ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has. He can barely control himself."

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research who heard about the ad said they found it sad.

"To me, this is a shame that they're exploiting someone like Michael J. Fox for something that the scientists say is not going to do anything," said Douglas Stiegler, executive director of Maryland's Family Protection Lobby.

Steele campaign spokesman Doug Heye agreed, saying he considered the ad "in extremely poor taste."

Fox's battle with Parkinson's has been widely chronicled, but in this ad he shows a noticeable degree of decline.

His speech is clear but his head and body are jerky and unsteady. The camera remains still -- nothing about the production by Cardin consultant LHKK Media appears aimed at diminishing the striking visual impact of Fox's condition.

Cardin aides said Fox contacted the campaign after seeing news accounts of Steele's position on the research.

In February, Steele told members of a Baltimore Jewish group, "Look, you of all folks know what happens when people decide they want to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool."

He later apologized for the remark, which was interpreted as a comparison between embryonic stem cell research and Nazi experimentation. But he has maintained his position that research on embryos is not needed, especially, he has said, since there is promising research being done on adult stem cells.

Matt Mosk

By Phyllis Jordan  |  October 24, 2006; 6:15 AM ET
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