In a new embarrassment for the Republicans, Rush Limbaugh, the doyen of conservative talk radio hosts, has issued a graceless apology after suggesting the actor Michael J Fox might have faked the effects of Parkinson's disease in an election campaign advertisement pleading for embryonic stem cell research.
The 30-second advert, running in support of Democratic candidates in several key contests, shows Mr Fox, who announced in 1998 that he suffered from Parkinson's, sitting in a darkened room, his body lurching from side to side as he stares into the camera, making the case that such research offers hope of a cure for his own and other illnesses.
In the version of the ad tailored for the pivotal Senate race in Missouri, the actor urges voters to back Claire McCaskill in her bid to unseat incumbent Republican Jim Talent. "In Missouri, you can elect Claire McCaskill, who shares my hopes for cures... What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans - Americans like me," Mr Fox said.
The bombastic Mr Limbaugh, however, exploded in scornful outrage on air, claiming he had never seen Mr Fox in such a state. "This means either he didn't take his medication or he was acting," said the radio host, who has a weekly audience of more than 10 million. The actor's behaviour was "really shameless," he added.
But after furious protest from doctors and medical experts, Mr Limbaugh recanted. "Alright, I stand corrected, I will bigly, hugely, admit I was wrong," he said - only to lambast Mr Fox in the next breath for allowing his illness to be exploited and for a "shilling" for a Democratic politician.
The spat is symptomatic of an uncommonly dirty campaign ahead of the mid-term vote on 7 November. But the issue could be a winner for the Democrats, given the strong public support for expanded stem cell research, which Mr Bush opposes. If the Democrats recapture the House of Representatives, a bill to expand research is likely to be one of the first proposals by the new leadership.Reuse content