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What Does Reagan's Legacy Mean To Young Republican Voters?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Tomorrow's primary in California may not mean much for the GOP presidential race, but one major figure from that state still means a lot.

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TED CRUZ: I think of the speech that Ronald Reagan gave to our party.

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MARCO RUBIO: Ronald Reagan made us believe that it was morning in America again.

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DONALD TRUMP: And Ronald Reagan turned out to be a great president.

GREENE: The voice there - former presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and then presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. NPR's Sarah McCammon wanted to find out what Reagan's legacy means to GOP voters, even if they weren't alive during his presidency.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: I'm at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. It is a beautiful day. The library is right on the edge of the mountains outside of Los Angeles. And this is where a lot of tourists come to learn about and remember the Reagan presidency.

JIM IRWIN: Yes, I was a very big fan of Ronald Reagan.

MCCAMMON: That's Jim Irwin Dallas, Texas. Like many of the visitors here, he's old enough to remember Reagan's presidency and to have voted for him more than once.

IRWIN: I think he was a very positive for our nation, and I thought he was a tremendous speaker.

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RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

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MCCAMMON: But what about for younger Republicans who were born after the Berlin wall came down? For Alexa Dunetz, a 25-year-old college student from New York, Reagan's words have left an impression.

ALEXA DUNETZ: When I really fell in love with Reagan was when I took my first public speaking course and watching him and the way he was able to connect with an audience years after he was out of office and over a TV screen, which is not an easy thing to do.

MCCAMMON: Dunetz attended the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, D.C., in March. The event draws a pilgrimage of the conservative faithful from around the country each year. And Reagan is considered their godfather.

DUNETZ: So many people sit there and go, I'm a conservative because of Reagan, and it's really cool to hear.

MCCAMMON: Sam Wolf of Redwood City, Calif., was also at CPAC. But when I caught up with him at a Donald Trump rally in San Jose last week, he seemed tired of hearing about the good old days.

SAM WOLF: I was at CPAC this year, and every single speaker mentioned Reagan at least 20 times. And he was a good president, but he's not, like, you know, the end-all be-all of the conservative movement. And it doesn't give you instant credibility to call yourself a Reagan conservative.

MCCAMMON: Wolf is no fan of Trump's, but several young Trump supporters had similar mixed feelings about Reagan. Zoey Wittlake Taylor of Sacramento is turning 18 next month.

ZOEY WITTLAKE TAYLOR: I mean, he's just, like, the classic all-American president.

MCCAMMON: She says she doesn't really like it, though, when Trump compares himself to Reagan.

TAYLOR: Like, I feel like all of us kind of live in the now. Like, our generation is so focused on right now.

MCCAMMON: Her friend, Andrew Mendoza-Wong, also turns 18 this year and feels like candidates who invoke Reagan are overlooking his generation.

ANDREW MENDOZA-WONG: They really like to remember the days of Reagan because they were good days. But, I mean, for us, it's different. We kind of want our own Reagan. And we don't want, like, seconds or, like, a leftover philosophy from that time.

MCCAMMON: But given that the GOP gets a lot of it support from older voters, expect Ronald Reagan's name to remain on the lips of Republican candidates for a while. Sarah McCammon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.