WASHINGTON – Former first lady Nancy Reagan, who has nurtured her husband's legacy, will share the limelight Thursday as Republican presidential candidates try to lay claim to the Reagan mantle.
Nancy Reagan, 83, will be in attendance but is not expected to speak at the GOP candidates' first debate of the 2008 primary at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., according to library officials.
"Ronnie always hoped the library would be a place where policymakers will debate the future," Nancy Reagan said in a statement announcing the debate in February. "This presidential debate provides the opportunity to fulfill his wishes."
Nancy Reagan has generally stayed out of the political spotlight in recent years, with a few exceptions. Last year, she lobbied in favor of legislation to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, but the bill was vetoed by President Bush. President Reagan suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
She also waded into the Virginia Senate race last year when Democratic candidate James Webb, a former Republican, ran an ad featuring 1985 video footage of President Reagan praising his gallantry as a Marine. Webb was an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and later served as Reagan's Navy secretary.
Nancy Reagan's office sent a letter to the Webb campaign objecting to the use of the Reagan footage. Webb won the race, narrowly defeating incumbent Republican George Allen.
The 2008 GOP candidates frequently invoke the former president, who remains popular with grass-roots Republicans.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has called for a "return to the commonsense Reagan Republican ideals of fighting for hardworking Americans." Arizona Sen. John McCain often tells crowds that Reagan offered precisely the kind of leadership needed by the Republican Party today. "We can do it again if we lead and inspire as he did," he exhorts.