Arnold Schwarzenegger's leap into the recall campaign against Gov. Gray Davis gives the Republican Party a candidate with name recognition that is second to none -- but also one with little previous political experience.
Until he announced Wednesday night on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" that he was running in the Oct. 7 election, the action movie hero's sole foray into California politics was drafting a successful ballot initiative to provide as much as $550 million a year to before- and after-school programs.
"I speak directly to the people, and I know that the people of California want to have better leadership," the body building champion turned movie star told reporters after his announcement.
Schwarzenegger's candidacy is sure to draw comparisons to Ronald Reagan, who parlayed his on-screen popularity into the California governorship and later the presidency of the United States. But Reagan had been politically active and served as president of the Screen Actors Guild before his run for governor in 1966.
Schwarzenegger's celebrity status is no guarantee of success at the polls, either. A recent poll found Schwarzenegger was in second place behind Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan when likely voters were asked to choose from six potential candidates.
His popularity at the box office is another matter -- as a cyborg from the future or a supersized everyman seeking vengeance, Schwarzenegger has firmly landed himself in the $20 million club of A-list movie stars. He earned about $30 million for "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," released last month.
He's had less success with comedic roles -- the best were in "Kindergarten Cop" and "Twins" -- but he's not above joking about his candidacy. He announced his run with a pithy quip from his Terminator role: "Say `hasta la vista' to Gray Davis."
Schwarzenegger's candidacy will certainly subject the 56-year-old actor to withering attacks from Davis allies, who gave him a taste of the harsh spotlight in the political arena when he was contemplating entering last year's governor's race.
A Davis strategist bombarded newsroom fax machines with articles about Schwarzenegger's alleged groping and womanizing. The actor denied the claims, and some of his co-stars came to his defense.
On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger said he would not be deterred by Davis allies attacking him, adding, "I know that they're going to throw everything at me."
After beginning his film career in 1970 with the campily awful "Hercules in New York," in which an American voice was dubbed in place of his thick Austrian accent, Schwarzenegger gained attention for the 1977 bodybuilding documentary "Pumping Iron."
Last year's rerelease of the film also brought scrutiny when it was noted that Schwarzenegger, then preparing to defend one of his bodybuilding titles, was seen smoking marijuana in one scene.
"I did smoke a joint and I did inhale," he told The Associated Press at the time. "The bottom line is that's what it was in the '70s, that's what I did. I have never touched it since."
Several other films that show Schwarzenegger engaging in over-the-top movie mayhem -- including the "Terminator" movies -- might also be singled out for criticism during a campaign.
Still, he is considered a formidable contender because of his ability to draw international media attention, his personal wealth and his unbeatable name recognition.
"As you know, I don't need to take any money from anybody. I have plenty of money myself," he told reporters Wednesday. "I will make the decisions for the people."
He was said to be hesitant about entering the campaign after the recall qualified for the ballot July 23; advisers said his wife, journalist Maria Shriver, was cold to the idea.
"Well, we went back and forth, you know, and we wanted to consider all the ups and downs of a campaign like that and of a job like that," Schwarzenegger told "Access Hollywood" after his announcement. "When I do something I do it 100 percent and dive in there with my whole heart."
As a member of the nation's most prominent Democratic family -- the daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and former vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver -- Schwarzenegger's wife is keenly attuned to the risks of a life in politics.
The couple have four children, ranging in age from 5 to 13.
In an AP interview last year, Schwarzenegger smoked a cigar and said he has been in good health after undergoing surgery to replace a heart valve in 1997.
He mused about the possibility of becoming governor of the nation's most populous state.
"That's the great thing about this country, that as a foreigner, `Mr. Schwarzen-Schnitzel,'" he said with a laugh, "I can come here and say, `Maybe some day I'm going to run this state.' It's a big state. Then we can buy Austria."