WASHINGTON (AP) — The 2014 midterm elections are days away, but preparation are already underway for the first debate of the 2016 presidential primary contest.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation announced on Thursday that it will invite GOP presidential candidates to attend a televised debate at California's Reagan Library in September 2015.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., center, speaks with supporters during a meet and greet with North Carolina Senatorial candidate Thom Tillis, not shown, at Big Ed’s City Market in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. Paul is considering a 2016 bid for the White House. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Former first lady Nancy Reagan noted that the country is less than a year away from the beginning of an important national conversation. "I can't think of a better way to honor my husband than to keep the tradition of Reagan Library-hosted debates alive," she said.
The announcement comes more than two years before voters will decide President Barack Obama's successor. But in some ways, the next presidential contest is already up and running.
Prospective Republican White House hopefuls have been jockeying for position while helping their GOP colleagues in midterm contests from Iowa to New Hampshire in recent weeks. The list includes Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, another prospective presidential candidate, has been campaigning for Democrats.
While the Regan Library hosted GOP debates in the last two presidential contests, it's unclear if the Republican National Committee will sanction the one now set for Sept. 16, 2015.
The RNC recently approved new rules that would limit the number of presidential primary debates. Some GOP officials believe that too many debates over a long primary season in 2012 damaged some of the party's candidates. In response to such concerns, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus established a 13-member committee of Republican officials that would set debate rules, including selecting venues, debate partners and even moderators.
"Our current focus is on taking back the Senate and growing the party this coming Tuesday," RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said when asked about the Reagan Library event. "By the end of the year the RNC will release a list of sanctioned debates and we look forward to working with networks, venues and groups that have an interest in hosting a debate."
Nancy Reagan, meanwhile, was enthusiastic about the event at the library in Simi Valley, California.
"Ronnie would be so pleased to know that his presidential library continues to attract America's leaders to discuss the future of the country he loved so dearly," she said.