The eyes of scientists, politicians and business leaders across the country were on Missouri and its proposed constitutional amendment to protect stem cell research Tuesday.

Known as Amendment 2, the ballot measure was the only one nationally in Tuesday's election to directly address the disputed research technique.

Returns from 55 percent of the state's precincts show the proposal being rejected by about 52 percent of voters, due largely to opposition in rural areas.

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As of 10:40 p.m. CST, most voters in 70 of the state's 114 counties had rejected the measure, with only seven counties in the supporting column. But those unofficial and partial results came with a significant caveat: almost all the precincts in St. Louis and Kansas City and surrounding suburbs, areas generally expected to heavily favor the amendment, had not reported vote totals.

While supporters have portrayed the ballot measure as nonpartisan, several backers monitoring election returns at a Washington University conference center in St. Louis hoped the nationwide gains by Democrats would translate into a victory for the amendment.

"This could be the greatest medical breakthrough in our lifetime," said the Rev. B.T. Rice of New Horizons Christian Church in St. Louis.

Stem cell supporters in Florida, Georgia and Kentucky are gearing up for similar ballot measures in the 2008 elections, depending upon the outcome in Missouri. Elsewhere, stem cell research emerged as a contentious campaign topic in the Wisconsin, Michigan, California, Maryland and Connecticut governors' races.

The amendment, also known as the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, would guarantee that any federally allowed stem cell research and treatments could occur in Missouri, including embryonic stem cell research.

Its significance is largely symbolic: Embryonic stem cell research is already occurring in Missouri. Supporters cite several unsuccessful attempts by some state lawmakers to criminalize the procedure as the impetus for the measure.