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Plans under way for Republican presidential debate

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Just more than a week after Republicans made big gains in congressional elections, former first lady Nancy Reagan is inviting leading contenders for the party's 2012 presidential nomination to a debate next spring.

"Ronnie would be thrilled that the road to the White House will begin at his presidential library," the widow of former President Ronald Reagan said in a statement on Thursday.

The date of the live televised event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California will be determined soon, Reagan Foundation spokeswoman Melissa Giller told Reuters.

Republican presidential hopefuls will also be invited to attend what will be the final Republicans-only debate of the 2012 season at the Reagan library on the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries early that year, the foundation said.

Both debates will be televised live on NBC and streamed online by the political news website Politico.com. The two media outlets will work with the Reagan Foundation to decide the criteria for which candidates take part, Giller said.

While no Republican has formally announced a candidacy for president, those often mentioned include 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and outgoing Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

The Reagan library hosted the opening and closing Republican presidential debates of 2008 and the foundation decided to make it a quadrennial political tradition.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)