Republicans Reach for Right to Reagan Mantle

March 28, 2007 — -- 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.

Reagan Library Hosts Top-Tier Debate at Critical Campaign Juncture

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.).

Republican Candidates Reach for Reagan Mantle

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.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose socially moderate positions on gay rights and abortion counter those of many conservatives, pleaded, "Ronald Reagan used to say, 'My 80 percent ally is not my 20 percent enemy'," asking a generally receptive crowd to look more to his leadership and less to issues they may not have in common before continuing, "We all don't see eye to eye on everything. You and I have a lot of common beliefs that are the same and we have some that are different…we all don't agree on everything. I don't agree with myself on everything."

Taking a thinly veiled swipe at Giuliani, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee retorted, "Frankly, I'm a little disappointed when I hear people say, 'I hate abortion but I don't believe we ought to regulate it'," referring to Giuliani's counter conservative positions on abortion.

Making a strong play for the Reagan mantle, Huckabee said the crowd may be looking at the current field of Republican candidates and wondering, "Dude, where's my candidate?"

Huckabee assured the Reaganites that he's their man -- signing an anti-tax pledge and painting his positions in stark opposition to not only the rest of the Republican field but also potential Democratic presidential nominee and GOP nemesis Senator Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

Longshot candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., endorsed Reagan's "trust but verify" and fellow outside contender Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., stoked the friendly crowd by excoriating his top-tier rivals for being "hyphenated conservatives", proclaiming, "The only adjective I will accept on the word 'conservative,' for me, is the word 'unapologetic'."

Tancredo also told the audience they "shouldn't be surprised at the host of conservative converts," but asserting, "conversion happens on the road to Damascus, not the road to Des Moines."

Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., who skipped this year's conservative forum, was one of three former Vietnam POWs in attendance at their 1974 conference, according to Time magazine, who was introduced to the conference by Reagan.

A quarter of a century later, Nancy Reagan picked McCain to accept the American Conservative Union's Conservative of the Century Award on behalf of her husband, who was unable to attend due to his struggle with Alzheimer's.