LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Popular California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed Republican candidate John McCain on Thursday, giving McCain a key boost in a state crucial in his drive to gain the party’s presidential nomination.
“He is a great American hero and an extraordinary leader. This is why I am endorsing him to be our next president of the United States,” the actor-turned-politician said.
California is a large prize among the 24 states that hold nominating contests on “Super Tuesday,” February 5. McCain, the Republican front-runner, already leads the polls over top rival Mitt Romney in the state.
Republicans and Democrats are involved in a state-by-state contest to choose their candidates for the November general election to succeed President George W. Bush. The two Democratic rivals, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, were also in California on Thursday ahead of an evening debate.
Schwarzenegger, a Republican who governs as a centrist in a state that has voted Democratic in recent presidential elections, cited McCain’s ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans as a chief reason why he endorsed the Arizona senator.
“There are people out there that talk about reaching across the aisle, but he has shown the action, over and over again,” Schwarzenegger said.
Schwarzenegger appeared with McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — who dropped out of the race on Wednesday and backed McCain — at a solar panel factory, a site picked to draw attention to McCain’s argument that global warming is a challenge that must be addressed.
McCain’s argument that the United States should join in a “cap and trade” system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is out of step with conservative Republicans, who fear it would create a burden for U.S. businesses and hurt economic growth.
The system would set industry-specific targets for reducing greenhouse gases and require firms that exceed them to buy permits to pollute. President George W. Bush has resisted European pressure to lead the United States to such a system.
But McCain’s position is more popular among independents and moderate Republicans who make up a large share of California’s electorate.
“We don’t have to have increased costs to Americans. In fact, with the development of green technologies, we can have reduced costs to the American consumer with the development of new technologies,” McCain said.
McCain’s candidacy has been helped greatly by independent voters, but his strength among traditional conservative Republicans is still a question of debate.
Asked whether he can appeal to the base of his party, McCain said he believes conservatives agree with him that the threat of Islamic extremism is the overarching threat facing the United States.
He said he believed he could unite Republicans into a “big-tent party,” and said he would be endorsed later in the day by Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
“We need all parts of our party together if we’re going to win in November. I believe our party is beginning to realize that,” he said.
Schwarzenegger said he made up his mind to endorse McCain after Giuliani, a moderate Republican also admired by Schwarzenegger, dropped out of the race.
“It’s all Rudy’s fault. Both of them are friends of mine and this is why I really didn’t want to endorse anybody,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan, editing by David Alexander and David Wiessler)
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