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Inside Politics

Reagan cast a wide shadow in politics

Hailed as 'the father' of modern conservatives

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Nancy Reagan is comforted by daughter Patti Davis as her husband's casket is positioned Monday at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.
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The Reagan family views the casket Monday at the Reagan Library.

Ronald Reagan's casket arrives at the presidential library in Simi Valley, California.

CNN's Jill Dougherty on the Reagan-Gorbachev relationship.

Today: Ronald Reagan's body is moved to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California where it will lie in repose through the night

Tuesday: The library is open for the public to pay respects, the casket on view

Wednesday: The casket is moved from the library at 8 a.m. PT (11 a.m. ET) to Naval Base Ventura County for transport to Washington; at 6 p.m. ET, a procession moves the body to the Capitol Rotunda where it will lie in state

Thursday: The body lies in state at the Capitol

Friday: The body is moved to Washington National Cathedral for a state funeral service, then is flown back to California for a 6:15 p.m. PT (9:15 p.m. ET) private funeral, followed by burial at the Reagan Library
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- He slipped from the public eye in 1994, six years after leaving the White House, but Ronald Reagan's shadow looms large over the American political landscape even today.

The nation's 40th president gave rise to a new generation of conservatives, reshaped the Republican Party, challenged Democrats to redefine themselves and altered the political dynamic in the nation's capital.

As the nation marks the death of Reagan, who lost a 10-year battle with Alzheimer's disease on Saturday, historians, ideological allies and onetime adversaries considered the impact the movie star-turned-president had on the political world.

"The father of the modern Republican conservative movement," is how Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, put it in paying tribute to Reagan.

Republican control of Congress can largely be credited to Reagan. Although Republicans did not win the U.S. House until 1994 -- well after Reagan left office -- that break in almost 50-years of Democratic control of Congress came after Reagan inspired a legion of conservative Republicans to run for office.

"All of us who participated in the Contract with America were standing on Ronald Reagan's shoulders," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, referring to the document promising a reformed Congress and a balanced budget that Republicans ran on in 1994.

Reagan, it can be argued, is responsible for the two Bush presidents. The first President Bush served as Reagan's vice president before winning the White House, and many Republican see the current President Bush as the political heir to Reagan.

With his boundless optimism, modest demeanor and unabashed patriotism, Reagan presented a new image for conservatives when he was elected to the presidency in 1980.

He brought back a sense of warmth toward the presidency, a sentiment that had dissolved with the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration.

"Reagan restored a sense of hope, a sense of uplift about the presidency," said presidential historian Robert Dallek. "Now it's ironic, because he preached the idea that government was not the solution, government was the problem. And yet, when he left the White House, he had kind of rekindled affection for the presidency."

Reagan's enormous personal appeal held firm, even when his administration was marked by scandal, notably the Iran-Contra controversy in his second term.

Time and again, conservatives have invoked Reagan's name in their appeals for smaller government and less taxes -- even if they have had a decidedly mixed record in delivering on those goals.

"To conservatives, 1980 is the year one," said Bill Schneider, CNN's senior senior political analyst. "Nothing of importance happened before 1980, before Ronald Reagan. And the whole conservative movement and even those Republicans who aren't part of it, all of them came from Ronald Reagan. Rudy Giuliani, Colin Powell, John McCain.

"They were all, in some way or another, Reaganites. They all came from under Reagan's umbrella. So the whole Republican Party traces its lineage, its legitimacy to this one man."

As president, Reagan's priorities were building the U.S. military, lowering taxes and reducing the size and scope of government. Under him, the U.S. deficit also grew at record levels -- something the current Congress finds itself grappling with anew.

Reagan's imprimatur extended to two voting trends that persist today.

"Both the gender gap and the religious gap started under Reagan," said CNN's Schneider.

Under Reagan, more men began voting for the Republican Party, even as more women turned to Democrats. That gender distinction remains.

In 2000, for example, Bush bested Gore by 10 percentage points among male voters.

Reagan also tapped into religious voters as never before. "Reagan brought religious conservatives into the Republican Party," Schneider said.

Today, religious conservatives are a key base within the GOP.

And so-called Reagan Democrats are another byproduct of his presidency. Conservative columnist Robert Novak described such voters as "blue-collar Democrats who are quite conservative, but they couldn't ever quite swallow Richard Nixon. But they took to -- to Reagan quite naturally."

Reagan's onetime Democratic foes conceded the impact he had on politics. Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who got trounced by Reagan in the 1984 election, hailed Reagan's ability to touch the American people and his political acumen. While Mondale made clear the policy disagreements remain, Reagan, he said, was a "genius" at campaigning who successfully challenged the opposition.

"I think he did challenge the Democrats, unlike any modern Republican presidential candidate, on the question of the basic direction of American government, particularly as it dealt with domestic policies and domestic economics," Mondale told CNN. "And it did shift the grounds of the debate."

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