Ronald Reagan may be gone but he is certainly not forgotten.
The Gipper's grip on the conservative faithful has turned Republican presidential nominating contests over the past near twenty years into a search for Reagan's successor; running to the right, GOP candidates do their best to prove worthy of being handed the keys to the former President's 'shining city on a hill.'
And, it seems 2008 will be no different.
The Ronald Reagan presidential library announced Tuesday that it will inject itself directly into the first wide open race for president since 1928, hosting a Republican presidential debate on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008 -- a potentially critical juncture in the nomination race -- and with only the GOP front-runners.
Given its early date and the stature of the former president's widow in the party, this debate could have a winnowing effect on the Republican presidential field after only Iowa, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and possibly Florida (pending legislative action) have voted.
According to spokesperson Melissa Giller, the Reagan Library aims to include only the top two or three Republican presidential hopefuls in this newly announced debate.
The Reagan Library has not yet decided what criteria it will use to determine whether to include two as opposed to three candidates. It has also not decided what criteria will be used to decide who the front-runners are but possibilities include national poll numbers, number of delegates accrued prior to the debate, or some other combination of factors.
The Reagan Library has also not yet settled on a media sponsor for the debate.
Final Debate Before Super Tuesday
The Reagan Library is billing its two-or-three-way as the final debate before the vote in delegate-rich California, final resting place of the nation's 40th president and home to his archives in the rolling hills of Simi Valley.
The Golden State and several other key states are scheduled to vote on Tuesday, Feb. 5, perhaps even before the often hotly contested South Carolina contest.
South Carolina Republicans are expected to vote Feb. 2 but that date is not etched in stone. If a Republican presidential hopeful is counting on a strong performance in South Carolina to revive a flagging campaign but is barred from the Reagan library's contest because it is not deemed to be a "front-runner" at that early date, it may be difficult to execute his strategy since the Reagan library's debate will likely receive so much media attention.
The newly announced Jan. 30, 2008 debate is not the only debate that the Reagan Library is doing this cycle.
It will also be hosting a May 3, 2007 debate with 10 Republican presidential hopefuls (Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former Gov. Jim Gilmore, R-Va., former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., former Gov. Tommy Thompson, R-Wis., Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.).
At the recent annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington -- an event Reagan attended twice as president -- Republican contenders were boasting their Reagan bona fides.