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Posted at 8:10 AM ET, 02/ 4/2011

How each presidential candidate could claim the Reagan mantle

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

Some time during a Republican presidential debate over the next 12 months, the candidates will be asked -- likely during the "lightning round" -- who their hero is.

It will be the easiest question they get all night, and at least 75 percent of them -- and that's a conservative, ahem, estimate -- will say former President Ronald Reagan.

As the nation celebrates the former president's 100th birthday this year, there will be an even bigger premium on Reagan nostalgia in the 2012 GOP presidential field.

But who actually has a claim to the Reagan political mantle?

It's hard to say, and it depends on how you best remember the former president -- for his ideology, his manner or his legacy.

Here's a Fix handicapping of how each potential GOP presidential candidate could make a claim on Reagan's legacy:

* Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor often gets compared to Reagan because of his movie-star good looks.Romney has also emphasized optimism and American exceptionalism -- two key Reagan themes. One more similarity is how Romney ran a Democratic state as a Republican governor and has evolved to become more conservative on social issues, just like the Gipper did.

* Sarah Palin: The former Alaska governor was recently compared to Reagan by her 2008 running mate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The comparison is apt in some respects; Reagan was viewed as a polarizing figure before he became president, and there was a large segment of the chattering class who saw him as lacking the necessary sophistication for the job.

* Newt Gingrich: The former House speaker is, like Reagan, an ideas man with a grand concept of what America is and what it could be. He can also, like Reagan, stake a significant claim to building the Republican Party that we know today.

* Tim Pawlenty: The former Minnesota governor has been talking about "Sam's Club Republicans" for a long time, but really, it's just a repackaged version of the Reagan Democrat -- independent, usually blue collar voters who want limited, effective government. He's also got the same soft-spoken, nice-guy style as Reagan, appealing personally to people who might not be as conservative as he is. (To wit: Pawlenty's recent interview with Jon Stewart).

* Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor had Reagan's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, run his 2008 campaign, and Rollins said Huckabee was the most Reagan-like of all the candidates. Reagan has always been known as a gifted communicator, and that's clearly Huckabee's strength too.

* Haley Barbour: The Mississippi governor served as Reagan's political affairs director. Like Reagan, he's good on stage, affable, and loves a good story. Both have few enemies within the Republican Party.

* Mitch Daniels: The Indiana governor was also a top political advisor to Reagan. But Daniels hurt his claim on the Reagan mantle somewhat when, in 2008, he urged Republicans to "let go of Ronald Reagan" and start looking to the future.

* Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania GOP senator is a conservative hero much in the same vein as Reagan. Reagan is known for not compromising on his values, and that's really Santorum's big selling point as a presidential candidate.

Simmons might run for Senate: Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), who lost last year's Senate primary to wrestling executive Linda McMahon, could get back in the game.

In a local news interview airing Sunday, Simmons said he might run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Whether or not he actually runs, Simmons has made one thing clear: He does not want McMahon on the ticket. "Are we looking for a candidate who has actually won races? A person who's committed to public service?" he asked The Hill recently. "Or are we still looking for a multi-millionaire?"

Bruning leads in Nelson race: According to a poll by Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) is best poised to take on Sen. Ben Nelson (D) next year. He leads all other Republican hopefuls by double-digits in the primary.

Bruning wasted no time getting into the race -- he announced days after the 2010 election.

Numerous polls have suggested that Nelson is in trouble in 2012, and PPP is no exception: in their survey Nelson trails Bruning 50 percent to 39 percent.


Romney is urging Palin to run for president, saying she would provide a valuable voice in the GOP primary.

Former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who resigned from Congress amidst revelations of inappropriate interactions with House pages, introduced freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) at one of West's office openings.

Huntsman will make an appearance in Washington next week.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) won't rule out a run for president in 2016.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said he is still planning on seeking reelection.

The Federal Election Commission will now allow individuals to contribute $2,500 per election to each candidate they support. That's up from $2,400 last cycle.


"GOP divided over White House response to Egypt" -- AP

"Mitt Romney needs a better defense for RomneyCare" -- Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

"Redistricting amendment allies sue Fla. Gov. Scott" -- AP

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | February 4, 2011; 8:10 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: Fast Fix: Is Obama like Reagan? (VIDEO)

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