LOS ANGELES – President Bush flew cross-country to help dedicate a new Air Force One (search) exhibit at the Ronald Reagan presidential library (search), but his appearance at a GOP fundraiser while he was here irked top California Republicans.
They said Bush's appearance Thursday night at a $1 million Republican National Committee (search) fundraiser was poorly timed because of the upcoming Nov. 8 special gubernatorial 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.
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) is trying to court independents and Democrats — two voter blocs that typically haven't supported Bush.
The governor's campaign expressed disappointment that Bush would travel to the state to raise money just two and a half weeks before the special election.
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 that the president was coming to California so close to the November election to raise money for the Republican National Committee. 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."
Leading California Democrats on Thursday asked Schwarzenegger to break from his special election campaign long enough to meet with Bush. Democrats criticized the governor's decision, saying Schwarzenegger is putting politics ahead of the needs of the state.
"This governor promised to be the 'Collectinator' — but California sends more money to the federal government than any other state in the union," said Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-Los Angeles. "Apparently, the only thing that the governor is collecting is special interest money."
The opening of the Air Force One Pavilion is the realization of Reagan's plan that everyday Americans should be able to share Air Force One. Once the exhibit opens to the public Monday, visitors will be able to walk through the aircraft that Reagan used.
Bush and first lady Laura Bush will pay their respects to Reagan, who died last year, by placing a wreath at his memorial. They also plan to tour the library and eat lunch there before flying back east for a weekend at Camp David.