SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – President Bush on Friday helped dedicate a new Air Force One (search) exhibit at Ronald Reagan's presidential library, calling the massive blue and white plane a "celebrated symbol of democracy and freedom."
Bush was at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum with former first lady Nancy Reagan to honor the revered Republican two-termer. The plane being displayed carried Reagan on 211 missions, Bush said.
Bush, who spoke while facing the retired Air Force One, which is parked inside a windowed pavilion overlooking Simi Valley noted that the Boeing 707, which carried Reagan and six other presidents, carried "freedom's message" across oceans and continents. He noted that Reagan served at a time when the former Soviet Union was crumbling.
"Our freedom is once again being tested by determined enemies," Bush said, likening communism to terrorism.
Like communism, Islamic radicalism is "doomed to fail," he said.
"Free peoples will own the future," Bush said.
The Air Force One Pavilion, which also houses a former Marine One helicopter, a presidential limousine and a replica of an Irish pub, tells the story of Reagan's two-term presidency. Visitors who tour the retired Air Force One will see Reagan's beloved jelly beans on the plane's presidential conference table.
Bush also praised the late president's widow.
"We're great fans of Nancy Reagan (search)," said Bush. "We admire her strength. We admire the love she has for her husband and we're grateful for her friendship."
Bush's appearance on Thursday evening in California, however, didn't suit some members of the state GOP. They said his stop at a $1 million Republican National Committee fundraiser was poorly timed because of the upcoming special election.
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) is trying to court independents and Democrats, two voter blocs that typically haven't supported Bush.
Schwarzenegger is pushing several initiatives on the Nov. 8 ballot, including extending the probationary period for teachers, requiring public employee unions to get written permission from members before dues can be used for political purposes and capping state spending.
The governor's campaign expressed disappointment that Bush would travel to the state to raise money just 21/2 weeks before the special election.
"Unless President Bush is coming to California to hand over a check from the federal government to help us with the financial challenges we face, the visit seems ill-timed," said Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party.
An official connected with the California GOP fundraiser said those who attended also have contributed to Schwarzenegger's campaign coffers.
Schwarzenegger chose not to attend the Thursday night fundraiser or the event at the library where Bush was to lay a wreath in memory of the late ex-president.
During a campaign stop Wednesday in Anaheim, Schwarzenegger addressed why he was passing on the opportunity to sit with Bush.
"We're in high gear right now for our campaign," he said. "So of course, right now, it's all about paying attention to that. So this is why I couldn't really accept the invitation to be part of the ceremony at the Reagan Library out there."
But he also said he was not happy the president chose to visit California so close to the November election to raise money for the RNC. To date, Schwarzenegger has yet to reach his $50 million fundraising goal to promote his ballot initiatives.
"I've met with the president several times in the past. We've worked together, and we have a good working relationship," Schwarzenegger said, adding, "... We would have appreciated it if he had done his fundraising after Nov. 8."
Bush and Schwarzenegger long have had a tentative relationship, and they have sharp differences on social issues such as abortion, gay rights and stem cell research.
Just days after Schwarzenegger's victory in the 2003 recall election, the governor-elect told a cheering crowd in San Bernardino that "there is no greater ally this Golden State has in Washington" than Bush, who stood beaming nearby.
But Schwarzenegger also has been careful to maintain a certain distance from the president, who lost the state to Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential contest and to Al Gore in 2000.
For his part, Bush has taken advantage of the Republican governor's celebrity, most notably at the Republican National Convention in New York last year and in a campaign appearance in Ohio days before the 2004 election. Schwarzenegger was credited with helping Bush narrowly win that pivotal state.