( dpa ) - Influential California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed Republican frontrunner John McCain for the party's presidential nomination on Thursday, days before the critical Super Tuesday primaries in California and some 20 other states.
The endorsement of the former action movie star turned politician was seen by analysts as giving McCain a key advantage in Schwarzenegger's state, where the Austrian-born former muscleman is a popular figure despite growing economic problems.
Schwarzenegger made the announcement at a joint appearance at a solar energy company in Los Angeles.
It was McCain's second major endorsement in two days. Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was also present at the event, withdrew from the Republican presidential race on Wednesday and endorsed McCain.
"I am endorsing Senator McCain to be the next President of the United States," Schwarzenegger said. "He is a great American hero and an extraordinary leader."
Schwarzenegger's move had been widely expected as both men are considered political mavericks in the centre-right US party, with strong appeal among independents.
The endorsement came amid a heated political atmosphere in California, where McCain clashed with his main rival Mitt Romney in a debate Wednesday about who was more hardline on Iraq.
On Thursday night, Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will go head-to-head in Los Angeles in the first Democratic debate to feature just the two remaining candidates, a day after John Edwards left the race.