Four U.S. Republican presidential candidates took to a Californian stage Wednesday for their final debate before "Super Tuesday," with Arizona Senator John McCain emerging as the front-runner and Rudy Giuliani watching the rest of the race from the sidelines.
During the wide-ranging, roughly 90-minute debate, the candidates clashed on issues ranging from efforts to bolster the sagging U.S. economy to how to tackle illegal immigration.
Greeted by former first lady Nancy Reagan, the candidates filed into the debate hall at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hosted the event, and fended off questions about reports that he will endorse McCain on Thursday, saying that it was inappropriate for him to endorse anyone on a day he was hosting a debate between the four front-running Republican candidates.
The debate began with the candidates disagreeing on whether Americans are better off after seven years of President George W. Bush's Republican administration.
The Republican presidential race had an apparent front-runner all of a sudden earlier in the day, as McCain was endorsed by former New York Mayor Giuliani, who formally withdrew from the race two hours before the debate.
Giuliani made his announcement a day after being trounced in the Florida primary, and two hours before he was scheduled to participate with McCain and three other Republicans in the debate at the Reagan Presidential Library.
McCain, appearing with Giuliani at a press conference before the debate at the library, thanked the former New York City mayor and called him his friend.
"He is an American hero," McCain said. "We were friends before the campaign, and we were friends when we were competitors for the nomination."
Giuliani said the Arizona senator was the most qualified candidate to lead the country, also referring to him as an "American hero" who shared his vision for the Republican Party.
On Thursday, the Democratic candidates will debate at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.