Candidates seem to be emulating Reagan

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in among the list of potential Republican president candidates evoking an association with the popular former president Ronald Reagan.Steve Pope / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ronald Reagan once famously sounded the call to "win one for the Gipper."  Now, potential Republican presidential candidates are hoping that the Gipper will help win one for them.

In these early days of the 2008 presidential campaign, when politicians still are exploring the notion of a run and trying to fill out their political profiles, candidates are trying to glom on to a little of the luster from the Reagan glory days.

They seem to be trying to out-Reagan one another.

Reagan vs. Bush Republicans
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says his party "must return to the common sense Reagan Republican ideals of fighting for hardworking Americans."

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback offers himself as "a full-scale Ronald Reagan conservative."

Arizona Sen. John McCain, 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.

Questioned about whether he's too old to be president, the 70-year-old McCain has a ready retort: "Ronald Reagan wasn't."

But wait, where are all the Bush Republicans? With the president's poll numbers in the cellar, perish the thought.

"I have noticed that," said Stacie Paxton, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. "President Bush's policy failures have made him so unpopular that even Republicans, let alone Republican presidential hopefuls, don't want to be associated with him."

Not that Democrats wouldn't love to claim a little of the Reagan luster for themselves.

In Virginia, Democratic Senate candidate James Webb, a former Republican, ran an ad this fall featuring 1985 video footage of 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 use of the Reagan footage, and three former top Reagan aides also denounced the use of the video clip. But Webb persisted in running the ad, and narrowly defeated incumbent Republican George Allen.

A 'happy conservative'
Brownback, in a recent Associated Press interview, passed up a chance to comment on what the Reagan lovefest might suggest about the popularity of the Bush administration, instead offering Reagan as the modern model for a "happy conservative."

"Reagan just always presented things nicely," Brownback said. "He was avuncular. He was pleasant about it. I think we have to be happy conservatives. I don't know that I get that done all the time, but I do try to do that."

Former Reagan White House chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein, one of those who objected to the Webb ad, said Reagan's philosophy, charm, humor and accomplishments make it only natural for people to invoke his name.

"Everybody wants the Reagan mantle because he provided the Republican Party with the shining city on the hill," said Duberstein.

What does all of this say about the Bush administration?

"People focus on Ronald Reagan," said Duberstein. "Period."