By Samantha Hayes, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
I was two when Ronald Reagan was first elected President. So I don't remember much of his first term! But he was the first President I can remember in my lifetime. And even though I was young, I recall feeling that the world was a good, safe place. Okay, that probably had more to do with just being a kid, but I really do think Reagan, whether you agreed with his politics or not, had a sense of optimism that made Americans feel good.
The design of Reagan's Presidential Library, shining and sitting atop a hill overlooking the Simi Valley, stirs up that feeling.
It's a beautiful drive up to the library and when you arrive, the views are breathtaking, and change in color and texture every few minutes as the sun tucks itself behind those hills. Ideologically speaking, Reagan preferred to talk about mornings, but I bet he enjoyed many of these California sunsets, which provided the spectacular backdrop for our reports leading up to the GOP debate.
Karin Caifa, who is producing those reports with me, managed to find a few free minutes and explored the walkway that winds up to Reagan's grave...
"It's an impressive view. Standing at the site were two little Cub Scouts, one of whom told me it would be disrespectful to snap a picture of Reagan's resting place! The site faces out to the mountains, some of them lush and green, others capped with snow. Walking back to our media tent, I stopped to look at a piece of the Berlin Wall, which stood for most of my childhood thousands of miles away, until Reagan was instrumental in bringing it down. I wasn't quite aware enough of global events when it happened in 1989, but I knew that it was big."
Memories of Reagan were obviously on the minds of the candidates, especially Mitt Romney and John McCain, the top two contenders for the GOP nomination. Were they trying to recapture that feeling of optimism? Perhaps. Or maybe it was just nostalgia.
During the hour and a half debate CNN tallied the number of Reagan references:
Mike Huckabee: 7
Mitt Romney: 19
John McCain: 8
Ron Paul: 3
In addition to Reagan, the other overwhelming presence during the debate was Air Force One. The pavilion where the debate was staged was built for the aircraft, a 707 model which served as the "Flying White House" for almost thirty years.
Now, usually when on the job I don't get to experience things like this, but we had some time between our last two live hits. A woman with a lovely English accent who gives tours at the library offered to take us inside Air Force One. Linda, our guide, told us that nothing inside had been changed, only preserved. The cabin is divided up into sitting areas with large leather seats. One partition looked just like an office area. The overall feeling was stately, not exceedingly lavish. And I thought it was charming to see a jar of jelly beans on one of the desks. Reagan was known for his love of jelly beans. Apparently he started eating them when he gave up smoking and used to pass around the jar before cabinet meetings, and I'm guessing before takeoff.
As we exited Air Force One, Karin and I shifted from reporters to tourists and quickly snapped a couple of shots of ourselves next to the Presidential Seal on the door of the aircraft.