(AP Photo/Fred Prouser, Pool, File)
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- Former first lady Nancy Reagan planned to endorse John McCain for president on Tuesday, as the Arizona senator continued to collect the backing of leading Republicans who might help him win over critical conservative voters.
Now certain to win the GOP nomination, McCain is on the West coast this week to raise money. He was to stop by the Southern California home of former President Ronald Reagan's widow to accept her endorsement.
In a statement before the event, Reagan said she typically waits until after the GOP convention to announce her support but she decided to do so now because it is clear the Republican Party has chosen its nominee.
"John McCain has been a good friend for over thirty years," Reagan said. "My husband and I first came to know him as a returning Vietnam War POW, and were impressed by the courage he had shown through his terrible ordeal. I believe John's record and experience have prepared him well to be our next president."
Reagan's eventual support was expected, and she will become the latest top Republican to fall in line behind McCain. She and McCain have long been close, and it was only a matter of time before she spoke up for her friend.
Her endorsement could help McCain shore up the backing of conservatives who long have viewed him skeptically for his record of breaking with the party on some issues they hold dear. At the same time, Reagan's nod also could help further align him with the former president who attracted Democratic as well as Republican voters.
The former first lady has nurtured her husband's legacy and has generally stayed out of the political spotlight in recent years, with a few exceptions. She remained quiet during the multi-candidate fight for the GOP nod but did attend debates held at her husband's presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif.
In 2006, she lobbied in favor of legislation to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a position McCain shares, but President Bush vetoed the bill. President Reagan suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
She also waded into the Virginia Senate race that year when Democratic candidate James Webb, who once served as Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, ran an ad featuring 1985 video footage of President Reagan praising his gallantry as a Marine. Nancy Reagan's office sent a letter to the Webb campaign objecting to the use of the Reagan footage.