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Schwarzenegger to endorse McCain

Former first lady Nancy Reagan and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attend the CNN/Los Angeles Times Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California January 30, 2008. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

SIMI VALLEY, California (Reuters) - California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will endorse Republican John McCain’s bid for president, McCain campaign aides said on Wednesday.

Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican who had largely stayed out of the presidential race, is expected to formally announce his backing for McCain when the two appear together at an event in Los Angeles on Thursday, the aides said.

Schwarzenegger’s support could give McCain, the front-runner for the Republican nomination in November’s presidential election, an important boost in California, which is among more than 20 states that will hold nomination contests on “Super Tuesday” next week.

The Los Angeles Times said Schwarzenegger made the decision to back McCain, an Arizona senator, after former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani dropped out of the race.

“He is good friends with both (Giuliani and McCain) and thought they were both strong candidates,” a source close to Schwarzenegger told the newspaper. “With Giuliani dropping out, that cleared the way for the governor’s decision.”

The latest polls show McCain leading his chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, by double digits among likely California primary voters, although some four in 10 said they could change their minds before they vote.

California, which has more than 15 million registered voters, will choose 173 Republican delegates on Super Tuesday.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Dan Whitcomb; editing by Chris Wilson