Arnold Schwarzenegger endorses John Kasich for president, calling him an 'action hero'

In a speaking role lasting less than 10 minutes, Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped back into the political world Sunday, endorsing Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president.

The sentiment came as no surprise. The former California governor appeared at a private fundraiser for Kasich last fall in Beverly Hills and called into one of his New Hampshire town hall meetings last month. The two have known each other for years.

Still, the formal embrace was enough to draw several hundred people and a sizable contingent of reporters and television cameras to a park in Columbus, the state capital, for a chilly outdoor rally.

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Schwarzenegger, who was in town for the Arnold Sports Festival, a giant body-building and fitness extravaganza, said he first met Kasich as a candidate for Congress in the early 1980s.

"When he came back to Washington, he kicked some serious butt,” said Schwarzenegger, using the kind of language that — pre-Donald Trump — used to raise eyebrows. “He was an action hero!"

He praised Kasich, a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, for helping balance the federal budget for a time in the late 1990s, and for stabilizing Ohio’s troubled finances as governor.

“Right now, we need leadership like that” in the White House, Schwarzenegger said. “There’s so much work that needs to be done.”

In his brief remarks, he also took a veiled poke at Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner who, as it happens, Schwarzenegger is replacing as host of “The Celebrity Apprentice” on NBC.

Noting that he came to the United States as a poor immigrant and succeeded as an actor, athlete and politician — and that he made “a lot of money" —  Schwarzenegger declared, “This is the land of opportunity. It is the greatest nation in the world, no matter what anyone says out there.”

The foray into politics was a rare venture for Schwarzenegger, who resumed his Hollywood career after leaving the governor’s office with middling approval ratings in January 2011.

Accepting the endorsement, Kasich wrapped Schwarzenegger in an enthusiastic hug. But it is unclear how much it can help at this point.

After finishing second in the New Hampshire primary, the governor lags far behind in the four-man Republican field. He has yet to win a state and is counting on a victory at home on March 15 to put him back into the race. Failing that, Kasich said, he will have no choice but to quit.

mark.barabak@latimes.com

Follow @markzbarabak for national & California politics.

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