By Jim Tankersley
LOS ANGELES – California's action-hero governor endorsed a presidential candidate he called "a great American hero and an extraordinary leader" this morning, in an event heavy on environmentalism and bipartisanship.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) headlined a day of prominent Republicans jumping onto McCain's frontrunning campaign for the GOP nomination. Former Missouri Sen. John Danforth, an outspoken critic of the party's rightward turn on social issues, endorsed McCain this morning.
McCain promised a "flood" of upcoming endorsements from "liberals and conservatives" in his press conference this morning, including one later today from Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The question is whether that flood can bring more conservative primary voters into the McCain ark.
McCain, whose maverick stances on issues such as campaign finance and the Bush tax cuts have alienated parts of the Republican establishment, touted the endorsements as proof that he can unite the party before November and the country if elected president.
He dismissed a question of whether the endorsements of moderates such as Schwarzenegger and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani – who announced yesterday he was ending his campaign and backing McCain – would damage his efforts to win conservative support for his candidacy. A pair of former governors, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, have run better with conservatives than McCain in the primaries so far; Romney appears to be pinning his nomination hopes on uniting conservatives against McCain, whose policies he has derided as "liberal."
McCain defended his conservative credentials again in last night's debate from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. But the setting this morning, on a postcard-perfect Los Angeles day, seemed geared for moderates, particularly in California.
Schwarzenegger, McCain and Giuliani began with a tour of Solar Integrated Systems, a company that manufacturers thin, flexible roofing materials that double as solar panels. Schwarzenegger told workers at an ensuing press conference that "you're creating jobs, you're protecting the environment and you're fighting global warming. That's music to my ears, and I know it's music to Sen. McCain's ears."
The governor went on to praise McCain for working across the aisle – a Schwarzenegger signature in California these days – and for fighting wasteful spending in Washington.
McCain said he was "pleased" with the endorsement and hoping that, in victory, he could "lay down the burden of being California's third senator." He pledged "to hand our children a cleaner planet than we have today."
McCain supports a cap-and-trade system to reduce America's carbon dioxide emissions and curb global climate change. Many conservatives remain skeptical that man-made climate change exists. Romney has attacked McCain's position repeatedly in the last week, saying the cap-and-trade system would stunt the domestic economy and raise taxes on working Americans.
In the debate, Romney warned that a system that did not include developing nations such as India and China would result in a 20 percent utility cost increase and a 50-cent hike per gallon of gasoline.
"I've lived in the business world," Romney said. "I've lived in the real economy for 25 years of my life. What happens if you do that? You put a big burden on energy in this country as the energy-intensive industries say, 'We're going to move our new facilities from America to China, where they don't have those agreements.'"
Word of Schwarzenegger's impending McCain endorsement leaked out shortly before the debate. Earlier in the campaign, the governor said he would not endorse a candidate. He was asked this morning why he changed his mind.
"It's Rudy's fault," Schwarzenegger said, drawing laughter. "Both of them are friends of mine, so I really didn't want to endorse anyone" – until Giuliani dropped out yesterday.