Reporting from Washington — If they host it, will they come?
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library announced Thursday that it plans to invite "all of the leading contenders" to a spring 2011 debate in Simi Valley, the first Republican presidential primary debate of the 2012 cycle. NBC News and Politico have signed on as media partners.
"Ronnie would be thrilled that the road to the White House will begin at his Presidential Library," former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a press release. "I look forward to welcoming and watching the top candidates debate the issues next spring."
Ahead of the 2008 elections, the first Democratic presidential forum was held in Orangeburg, S.C., in April 2007. Then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others, had already announced their candidacies and participated.
Many names are floated as potential Republican challengers to President Obama – Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, among others – but none has offered any indication that they plan to mount active campaigns just yet. Uncertainty over Palin's plans, in particular, may force other would-be candidates to stay out of the field.
Not that it's deterring the organizers.
"The fact that we are already talking about the 2012 presidential race only foreshadows how invested and deeply rooted America will be in the political discussion come next spring," said NBC News President Steve Capus.
Then again, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has already been in the important first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire since the Nov. 2 elections. The state Republican Party has tallied a list of two dozen other visits by potential candidates since 2009. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was in Iowa this week on a book tour as well.
The Reagan library hosted a 2008 GOP primary debate on the eve of the "Super Tuesday" primaries, which included California's. Today's announcement included plans to host a second debate at a similar time in 2012.