updated 10/19/2004 11:46:29 AM ET 2004-10-19T15:46:29

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has endorsed a $3 billion bond measure that would fund human embryonic stem cell research, a move that bucks Republican leaders and threatens to further strain the state’s budget.

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“California has always been a pioneer,” Schwarzenegger said Monday. “We daringly led the way for the high-tech industry and now voters can help ensure we lead the way for the biotech industry.”

The endorsement of the stem cell research measure comes at some political risk for the governor, who campaigned against California going deeper into debt when he unseated Gray Davis as governor in last year’s recall election.

The endorsement also will put Schwarzenegger at odds with the state Republican Party, which officially opposes Proposition 71, and perhaps the Bush administration, which has limited federal funding of the research.

“It’s a surprise given the economic challenges facing the state,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College who is voting against the measure. “Social conservatives might be unhappy, too, but he was never their favorite anyway.”

Schwarzenegger has said he supports stem cell research. His father-in-law, Sargent Shriver, is in the early grips of Alzheimer’s disease, which supporters of the measure say could someday be treated with stem cells.

If the measure is passed, it would provide California researchers with nearly $300 million annually for 10 years but cost a total of $6 billion to pay back. The proposition also would fund cloning projects intended solely for medical research.

Schwarzenegger’s endorsement Monday of a separate ballot proposal to dump political party primaries also marks a break with California’s GOP. Under the proposal, the two top primary finishers would advance to a general-election runoff, regardless of party affiliation. It would not alter presidential elections.

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