Democrat delight as Reagan's son signs up

The Democrats have an unexpected addition to the line-up of primetime speakers for their national political convention which begins in Boston in just two weeks. He is not exactly a Democrat, but he surely isn't a Republican either, in spite of his rather famous name.

He is Ron Reagan, the son of the late former president. Organisers of the convention, which opens on 26 July, confirmed that Mr Reagan will be a highlighted speaker on one of the evenings.

A liberal and a harsh critic of President George Bush, he is none the less expected to speak only about his support for a relaxation of federal restrictions on stem-cell research. "Ron Reagan's courageous pleas for stem-cell research add a powerful voice to the millions of Americans hoping for cures for their children, for their parents and for their grandparents," said David Wade, a spokesman for John Kerry, whose nomination to run for president will be confirmed in Boston.

Recruiting Mr Reagan to their convention stage in Boston is a political coup for the Democrats, even if he restricts himself to the subject of medical research.

Organisers clearly see his appearance, just weeks after the country mourned the death of his father, as an opportunity to embarrass the Republicans, who go on to hold their convention in New York City one month later.

"If they had asked me to say a few words about throwing George Bush out of office, I wouldn't do it," Mr Reagan told The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper yesterday.

Mr Reagan, 46, has joined his mother, Nancy, in lobbying Washington for a change in policy on stem-cell research. In 2001, President George Bush cut off federal funding for stem-cell research which could help doctors find new cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's, which assailed the mental faculties of Mr Reagan Snr for 10 years until he died, at the age of 94, last month.

Mr Bush has so far made no response to the appeals of the Reagan family. Conservative Republicans strongly oppose supporting stem-cell research, which involves drawing material from one-day-old fertilised human embryos. Critics of the procedure believe that it represents the moral equivalent of abortion.

"This gives me a platform to educate people about stem-cell research," Mr Reagan said of his invitation to Boston.

"The conservative right has a rather simplistic way of characterising it as baby-killing. We're not talking about fingers and toes and brains. This is a mass of a couple hundred undifferentiated cells."

That Mr Reagan, who describes himself as an independent, and his father hardly saw eye to eye politically has been well known for years. The former president was famously dismayed when his son dropped out of Yale University to join a ballet company. There was some consternation, however, when Mr Reagan Jnr appeared to make use of the address he made at his father's funeral in June to take a stab at President Bush over his tendency to cite God in making and explaining policy.

Mr Reagan, who lives in Seattle with his wife, Doria, told mourners that his father "never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians, wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage". He later said that he had not meant the remark to be taken as a direct criticism of Mr Bush.

He recently turned down a similar invitation to attend the Republican convention in New York, which will stage a special tribute to his father. "I don't think, in good conscience, I could take the chance that somebody could read that as an endorsement of this administration," he explained. "I'll support any viable candidate who can defeat Bush."

Mr Reagan added: "The Republican Party now is not the Republican Party of my father, not that it would be of great concern to me, one way or the other. I'm not a Republican, and I never have been."

In a separate remark recently, he said: "I couldn't join a party that, frankly, tolerates members who are bigots for one thing, homophobes and racists."

Voters in America may be seeing more of Mr Reagan. He recently signed a deal with the cable news network MSNBC to be a commentator for the 2004 presidential campaign.

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