“Ronnie always believed that debates are a great way for voters to hear candidates discuss the issues,” Nancy Reagan said in a statement announcing the debates. “He would be so pleased that his presidential library is serving such an important role in the election process.” The debate will “raise the reputation and the visibility of the Reagan Library in California and nationally,” said Herbert Gooch, a professor of political science at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. “It is very significant,” he said. “There has probably not been an event there that has had such a national impact since Ronald Reagan’s funeral.” Library officials chose the right time to initiate the debates, capitalizing on California’s new political importance created by moving up the primary election to Feb. 5, Gooch added. “It was very smart for the library to build upon the momentum of California coming to the forefront of presidential politics,” he said. “The debates here are interconnected with the new importance of California as a testing ground for the elections.” SIMI VALLEY – In February, Nancy Reagan sent personal letters to the major Republican presidential candidates inviting them to join in the first presidential debate ever held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. The library has hosted dozens of world and national leaders for their Reagan Forum addresses, giving it political stature. But when the former president opened the library in 1991, he had said he wanted it to become a place where policymakers would come to debate the future. So now, his widow is making good on that desire. On May 3, 10 candidates for the Republican nomination will meet at the hilltop library and try to sway opinion. The debate will feature Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo and Tommy Thompson. “Hardball” host Chris Matthews will moderate. A second debate featuring the Republican front-runners at the library is slated for Jan. 30 in the last debate before the Feb. 5 California primary. “The early primary makes California critical, and I personally can’t think of a better venue to start the process than the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library,” said Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Thousand Oaks, who represents the heavily Republican eastern Ventura County area. Melissa Giller, a spokeswoman for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, said with the campaign season gearing up early, library officials decided that next month would be a perfect time to hold the first debate. “To hold this first debate in May allows the public to hear the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses on the issues and decide who to support,” she said. “What better way (to fulfill Reagan’s dream) than to have the major debates here at the library.” “One of the reasons we think we were able to make this happen and make it happen so quickly is there are a lot of Republican candidates who like to relate themselves to Ronald Reagan,” Giller said. “To be able to come here for this first debate was important to them.” Frederick J. Ryan Jr., chairman of the library foundation board, said the May 3 debate will introduce the field of Republican presidential candidates to voters across America. And the January debate next year will allow the top contenders to make their cases for the Republican nomination before primary voters in California and other states go to the polls. “What better way to determine who will carry on in the tradition of Ronald Reagan than two strategically timed debates held at the Reagan Presidential Library,” Ryan said. Mike Osborn, chairman of the Ventura County Republican Party, said Republicans will gather to watch the debate at the Grand Vista Hotel in Simi Valley and hope to have campaign representatives there to talk about the issues after it’s over. “The Reagan Library is a monument to Ronald Reagan, who is the architect of today’s Republican Party,” Osborn said. “All of the candidates welcome the chance to debate at this venue.” Simi Valley City Councilman Glen Becerra, who is a Republican, agreed that the presidential candidates were drawn to the library by Nancy Reagan’s invitation and the power of her husband’s legacy. “The mantle that Nancy Reagan carries on behalf of herself and her husband is very powerful,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would want to turn down an invitation from Mrs. Reagan.” [email protected] (805) 583-7602 May 3 debate The Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library on May 3 will be closed to the public but will be televised on MSNBC, with coverage on www.msnbc.com. The Politico will stream the debate live on www.politico.com, providing the opportunity for viewers to question the candidates. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!