LOS ANGELES – President Bush on Thursday won the embrace of two California Republican icons, Nancy Reagan (search) and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, hoping their glow would rub off on him in a state that remains hostile territory to him.
At a fund raiser that brought in $3 million for the Republican National Committee (search), Bush praised Schwarzenegger for his performance following last year's gubernatorial recall election.
"He came to this important state and he got the job done," Bush told donors. "That's how I hope people view me as well as the president. I came to the capital and got the job done."
Schwarzenegger (search) joked that he has been working hard for Bush's campaign, saying, "I've been organizing Republicans for Bush-Cheney, I've been organizing ... bodybuilders for Bush-Cheney, I've been organizing girlie men for Bush-Cheney."
The Republican governor, in a comment that provoked controversy during a deadlock in state budget negotiations this summer, mocked Democrats in Sacramento as gutless "girlie men" unable to break away from trial lawyers, unions and other special interests. Some Democrats grumbled that the remark was sexist and homophobic. The governor didn't apologize.
Earlier, Bush and his wife stopped by the home of former first lady Nancy Reagan in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles, where Mrs. Reagan said she fully supports Bush's re-election. After meeting for about an hour, the three emerged from the house and the president told reporters that he and Mrs. Bush were "honored to pay our respects."
"I'm so glad you came," said Mrs. Reagan, who later issued a statement expressing "my hope that everyone will join" in supporting Bush's campaign. The president and Mrs. Reagan did not discuss their disagreement over Bush's restrictions on stem cell research, caps that the former first lady opposes. They took no questions from reporters.
Polls show California is a virtual lock for Democrat John Kerry (search). Its 55 electoral votes make up a huge chunk of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
Bush has not been to the most populous state in five months, but he promised to return before the election Nov. 2. "Nobody should take this state for granted in 2004," Bush said.
The president is much more concerned about keeping Nevada in his column. He won the state in 2000, but polls show it a dead heat now.
He stopped in Las Vegas en route to Southern California and defended his decision two years ago to use Nevada's Yucca Mountain (search) as the nation's high-level nuclear waste dump, a highly unpopular move that is haunting him this year.
Kerry visited Las Vegas earlier this week, and said that Bush broke a campaign promise to ensure science and not politics determined his decision whether to ship waste to Yucca Mountain.
Dozens of scientific studies remain incomplete and a recent federal appeals court ruling raised questions about whether the waste repository will be built, or at least meet its target of 2010 to begin operation.
"I said I would make a decision based upon science, not politics. I said I would listen to the scientists, those involved with determining whether or not this project could move forward in a safe manner and that's exactly what I did," Bush told supporters in this city 90 miles southeast of the proposed waste site.
Bush accused Kerry of pandering to Nevada voters by playing both sides of the issue, part of a broader effort to cast the Massachusetts senator as someone who bends to the political winds.
"He says he's strongly against Yucca here in Nevada, but he voted for it several times," Bush claimed.
That is not exactly true.
Each time Kerry has faced the simple choice of voting whether or not to send waste to Yucca Mountain, he has voted against it. But he has voted for some measures that had provisions to allow nuclear dumps there. Some 16 years ago, Kerry voted for an overall budget bill that included a provision favoring putting the nuclear waste in Nevada.
In a TV interview here, Bush declined to condemn a Republican TV ad criticizing John Kerry's military service. Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz. and like Kerry a Vietnam War veteran, called the ad "dishonorable."
Asked on television whether he agreed with the ad, Bush twice deflected, saying he opposed the system in which outside groups can air such commercials.
Bush was also asked whether this year's election is the most important in American history.
"For me it is," Bush said with a laugh.