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Reagan also is benefiting from nostalgia of George W. Bush, another two-term Republican president who left office scorned by many conservatives.

In one of the stranger juxtapositions, Reagan also has become a favorite for those on the left who once reviled him but now paint him as a courteous and optimistic statesman willing to cross party lines to work with Democrats.

In a House floor debate January over campaign financing in presidential elections, Democrats pointed to Reagan’s participation in the public financing system as ammunition to use against House Republicans trying to dismantle the system. Rep. David E. Price, North Carolina Democrat, called Mr. Reagan “the best example of this program’s success.”

That prompted some head-scratching from Republicans.

“When I find myself on the floor listening to my colleagues on the other side declaring Ronald Reagan to be the patron saint of Democratic Party ideas, I am bemused a bit because I served here when Ronald Reagan was president, and I don’t recall those same words at that time,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican.

In many ways, the fight over Reagan’s legacy has intensified because of the rise of the tea party movement.

For two decades, Reaganism was the goal of Republicans — a unifying theme and a governing philosophy. But over the past two years, some of that focus has shifted to the tea party, which is the first post-Reagan conservative governing philosophy to emerge.

Reagan’s policies do not sync up with the tea party’s agenda or Sarah Palin’s agenda,” Mr. Dallek said. “Sarah Palin and the tea party are really to Reagan’s right. They really are more extreme, and so in that have made Reagan look tamer.”

Reagan defenders, though, say Reaganism and the tea party philosophy are one and the same. Mr. Reagan in his day also was unafraid to challenge “establishment” Republicans, including a sitting GOP president in Gerald Ford, in his drive to see his conservative ideas prevail.

“The tea party movement was parallel to the Reagan movement within the Republican Party, the party that wants limited government and free markets — that’s what the tea party means,” Mr. Norquist said.