COMMENTS: Shadow of the Gipper

NBC, as it did last week for the Democrats, gave full play to its sibling network's debate. David Gregory set the stage from the Reagan Library in California's Simi Valley and Meet the Press anchor Tim Russert (at the tail of the Gregory videostream) predicted applause lines from the front runners: John McCain will say "he actually knew Ronald Reagan;" Mitt Romney will say he was a governor "a la Ronald Reagan;" Rudolph Giuliani will say he was hired as a Deputy Attorney General "under Ronald Reagan." Gregory pointed out that each is vulnerable to challenge on his "conservative credentials." He suggested that Wisconsin's former governor Tommy Thompson might be the man with that attack.

NBC's Gregory quoted his own network's poll showing "a crisis of confidence within GOP ranks" with 31% of the party faithful unhappy with the choice of candidates while CBS' Sandra Hughes cited her network's poll that found that 64% of Republicans do not believe that the party follows Reagan's principles. The debate takes place in the library pavilion that houses his Air Force One jet, "which, like the memory of Ronald Reagan, hovers over the proceedings." As last week, ABC did not consider the debate newsworthy enough to warrant a preview.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, the Secret Service announced that they would extend protection to Barack Obama. The protection was a response to the support Obama attracts on the stump, CBS' Bob Orr pointed out, not because of any known threat. An unnamed Obama aide told Orr: "There is concern about the size of Obama's crowds and the sheer crush of people who want to press close or even touch a candidate who exudes rock-star appeal." ABC's George Stephanopoulos did acknowledge that the African-American's race is "certainly" a factor in taking precautions.


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