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A Question of Character: Josh Mandel, Sherrod Brown and Stem Cell Research

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As a smudged fingerprint could identify a person, so a single political action may reveal a candidate's character.

The Ohio Senate race between Sherrod Brown, Democratic incumbent, and Josh Mandel, Republican challenger, is to my knowledge the most expensive Senate race this year -- perhaps of all time.

According to the Associated Press:

Nowhere is as much money being spent on a Senate race this year as in Ohio... outside interest groups are flooding the state with money... Crossroads GPS, an independent group associated with Republican strategist Karl Rove, the Chamber and other Mandel backers have spent a combined $15 million against Brown, and plan to spend $6.7 million more before November... Environmental, labor and political committees lining up against Mandel, the Republican state treasurer, have spent a combined $3.1 million. [...] "The only reason Josh Mandel's campaign is alive today is because Karl Rove continues to give it CPR," Redfern said.

Sherrod Brown is Ohio's current Senator, a plain-spoken man with the courage of his convictions. In the Bush years, when it was not always politically "safe" to oppose the Iraq war, he spoke out first and foremost. If we had taken his advice, and skipped the Bush-backed invasion of Iraq, we would have been spared the loss of thousands of our uniformed sons and daughters, as well as uncounted numbers of Iraqi civilians, the financial loss of more than a trillion in treasure with the accompanying debt -- and we might not have incurred the hatred of much of the Arab world.

Sherrod Brown is also a good union man, recognizing that only workers with the right to organize can achieve fair play and a decent wage to protect their families.

And he has always been strong for stem cells, a vocal opponent of President Bush's position.

Against him now is ultra-conservative Republican Josh Mandel.

What kind of candidate is he?

According to the fact-checking group Politifact (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), Mandel is the "Pants on Fire" leader of Ohio: "Five of his statements have been rated Pants on Fire, a label reserved for claims both false and ridiculous... the Pants on Fire Ratings show that he has been prone to repeat talking points and make incendiary comments that are longer on rhetoric than fact."

One such claim made by Mandel was that Brown was responsible for sending jobs to China. Pressed to provide proof for this statement, Mandel responded: "If that's the level of specificity you're looking for, you're the reporters, you go do the gruntwork... "

According to Joe Hallett of The Columbus Dispatch, Mandel claimed: "Every week we get phone calls from union leaders and Democrats who are military veterans and Democrats who are entrepreneurs who say, 'I've been a Democrat for a long time, but I just can't pull the lever for Sherrod Brown."

However, "A May 10 Quinnipiac University poll showing Brown with a 6-point lead in the race found that only 5 percent of Democrats surveyed said they plan to vote for Mandel, compared with 10 percent of Republicans who indicated support for Brown."

"A Dispatch analysis of campaign-finance records found no union contributions to Mandel, and so far he has received no union endorsements," Hallett noted.

Because of my family history, I care deeply about a candidate's stem cell position. My son Roman Reed is paralyzed, my Mother Christine died of breast cancer at age 52, my older sister Patty left us at just 24 from leukemia -- I want cures. Stem cell research has amazing long-term possibilities, if we can just keep the politicians out of the way..

When I heard Josh Mandel was co-sponsor of a stem cell bill, I was surprised. With a few courageous exceptions (like Orrin Hatch of Utah) Republicans are not generally helpful in stem cell research, opposing it as hard as they can. They are out of touch with the vast majority of the American people, who solidly support embryonic stem cell research, 72 percent, almost 3-1. Few issues of any sort command majorities like that.

A closer look revealed the Mandel bill was about cord blood as a source for stem cells.

As someone who has raised funds for stem cell researchers for more than a decade, I am of course familiar with cord blood, but have no great hopes of it bringing cures.

As world-renowned stem cell expert Larry Goldstein put it, umbilical cord blood is "interesting, but not generally a substitute for embryonic stem cells."

But who knows what research can find? Perhaps cord blood research will turn out to be really valuable.

So -- how much research funding does the Mandel bill actually contain?

Zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing.

H.B. 102, Mandel's co-sponsored cord blood stem cell bill, has no money in it.

The purpose of the bill?

The bill states: "... Requires the Department of Health to make available on its website... publications containing... information about umbilical-cord-blood banking... "

What it boils down to is that somebody types up some words about cord blood and posts the paper on a website. That's it. That is Josh Mandel's big stem cell bill.

Why bother with such an empty piece of legislation?

As propaganda, it may be useful to Mr. Mandel's political ambitions, allowing him to say he supports stem cell research. If no one challenges him, he can take credit without actually doing anything meaningful.

And there may also be another motivation...

Notice the following from the Mandel page on the website "On the Issues": "Umbilical blood is ethical source of stem cells. Mandel co-sponsored... H. B. 102, a bill to promote umbilical cord blood donation as an ethical source of stem cells."

By singling out umbilical cord blood as ethical, it implies other sources of stem cells are not ethical.

And just who will write these documents? If the authors are religious right Republicans, it is not hard to imagine them propagandizing against the embryonic stem cell research favored by Democrats, scientists and patient advocates.

Embryonic stem cell research is ethical as air. The stem cells are taken from microscopic biological materials left over the in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure -- which would otherwise be thrown away. It is to me the height of morality to turn what is essentially biological trash into potential cures for suffering children and adults.

H.B. 102 could be used to attack the embryonic stem cell research which may one day cure diseases and disabilities which ravage the world.

The bill is worthless at best, and potentially damaging.

On the basis of his co-sponsorship of H.B. 102, I would tend to agree with former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, who described Mandel as: "an empty suit... Josh Mandel is the kind of person who should never be in public office... There is nothing there..."

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