Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former Mr. Universe who became a millionaire superstar in Hollywood action movies, announced Wednesday that he would run for governor of California, setting the stage for a tumultuous two-month campaign to unseat Democratic incumbent Gray Davis.
The Republican actor, best known for playing a killer robot in three “Terminator” movies, opened his campaign with a raw display of the extraordinary national media platform at his disposal, announcing his candidacy on NBC’s “Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”
His move into the race capped a day that set the state’s political universe reeling, one that began with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, firmly taking herself out of the race. Feinstein characterized the recall campaign as a carnival that would distract from the serious issues facing the cash-strapped state.
Her departure from the race, while denying it the state’s most popular and prominent politician, unraveled the tenuous unity that Davis had sought to enforce among Democrats.
By late Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who had insisted for weeks that he would not be on the Oct. 7 ballot, announced he was entering the race.
“It’s definite,” said Richie Ross, Bustamante’s political consultant. Bustamante has scheduled a news conference for this morning.
Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, another Democrat, said Wednesday evening that he too was considering entering the race and would make an announcement today. On Monday, Garamendi had said he strongly opposed the recall and did not plan to run. “A lot of things have changed since Monday,” he said.
The state’s representatives in Washington also applied pressure on Democrats here to enter the race. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer told Bustamante that he “should be among the people considering” running on the recall ballot as a fallback to Davis, said Boxer strategist Roy Behr.
California congressional Democrats held a conference call Wednesday to talk about backing a Democrat as a replacement candidate. The names most mentioned were Bustamante and Leon Panetta, a former congressman and Clinton administration chief of staff, a top delegation aide said.
The entrance of Democrats -- particularly several of them -- would undermine a key Davis strategy since the recall emerged: to keep Democrats off the ballot so that he could portray the election as a move by right-wing Republicans to hijack the statehouse.
A Feinstein candidacy had posed the biggest threat to Davis; his own strategists conceded that the governor would lose the two-part recall election if she agreed to place her name on the ballot. The recall, which is still subject to several court challenges, will first ask voters whether they wish to recall Davis; they will then be asked to vote on a replacement. The state Supreme Court said it would announce today whether it will rule on any of the cases before it.
Among those caught off guard by Schwarzenegger’s surprise announcement was his close friend and another potential candidate, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. One of Riordan’s closest advisors said the mayor thought he had an understanding that Schwarzenegger would withdraw from the race, easing Riordan’s way in.
“So this is what it feels like to be mugged,” the advisor said.
On the “Tonight Show,” Schwarzenegger -- who lives in a Brentwood estate -- cast himself as a man of the people who would challenge special interests in the state Capitol. He promised to clean house in Sacramento.
“The people are working hard,” he told Leno in his trademark Austrian accent. “The people are paying the taxes, the people are raising the families, but the politicians are not doing their job. The politicians are fiddling, fumbling and failing.”
“Do your job for the people, and do it well; Otherwise you are hasta la vista, baby,” Schwarzenegger said, in what was one of several recasts of famous lines from his movies.
For two weeks, the actor’s advisors have told reporters that he was unlikely to run. By playing down expectations, they heightened the drama of what they had effectively transformed into a surprise announcement. Yet the meticulously choreographed “Tonight Show” stint, followed by two news conferences at NBC’s Burbank studios, stuck closely to the populist campaign platform that Schwarzenegger and his political team have been preparing for months.
It is a platform that his strategists hope will resonate with an electorate that is angry over California’s stalled economy and the state’s deep fiscal troubles.
Schwarzenegger invoked the 1.6 million voters who signed a petition demanding the special gubernatorial recall election scheduled for Oct. 7. He summed up the message of the petition signers by recalling the slogan of a deranged TV newsman in the 1976 film “Network”: “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more.”
But he also sought to inoculate himself against what may prove to be a brutal campaign ahead. His remarks augured back to a move by Davis forces in 2002 to publicize articles accusing the actor of brutish behavior.
“I know they’re going to throw everything at me and say I have no experience, that I’m a womanizer, that I’m a terrible guy,” he told reporters. “All these things are going to come my way. But this is why you have a great team together, a great staff. You fight off these things.”
At the new candidate’s side during the news conference after the show was veteran GOP strategist George Gorton, who helped lead campaigns by former governor and U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson. While Schwarzenegger’s advisors have described him as a moderate Republican, his political profile is largely a blank slate on myriad issues confronting California, including smog, freeway congestion, race relations, water supplies and the fiscal crisis.
Within minutes of his announcement, state Democratic Chairman Art Torres ridiculed his candidacy. “It’s one thing to see a movie or to see a bodybuilding exhibition, but to have this guy as your governor, I think people are going to think more than twice about it.”
For her part, Feinstein, who survived a recall attempt as San Francisco mayor in 1983, called the drive to kick Davis out of office a terrible mistake. Most of the dozens of potential candidates vying to replace him, she said, “have no background or knowledge of the state’s enormous portfolio of issues,” from public schools to health care and terrorism.
“After thinking a great deal about this recall, its implications for the future, and its misguided nature, I have decided that I will not place my name on the ballot,” she said in a statement. She declined to comment later on Schwarzenegger’s candidacy.
The oddity of the recall -- being used for the first time against a statewide officeholder -- has spawned a profusion of candidates, including former Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt and billboard pinup Angelyne. Their entrance has enabled the Davis campaign to portray the recall as a circus, a theme that Feinstein used Wednesday.
The Schwarzenegger and Feinstein decisions overwhelmed other developments in the race Wednesday. Author and syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington, an independent, announced she was running. Her ex-husband, former Republican Rep. Michael Huffington, is also weighing whether to join the race. She had said last week that she would stay out if her ex-husband decides to run, a comment that prompted a sort of public spat Wednesday between the former spouses.
“Obviously, Arianna has initiated her campaign with a lack of credibility,” said Michael Huffington’s spokesman, Bruce Nestande, who said the former congressman had not decided whether to run.
Today, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who bankrolled the recall effort, and Peter Camejo, the Green Party gubernatorial nominee last year, plan to file papers to put their names on the ballot.
Steve Smith, director of the governor’s anti-recall campaign, responded to Schwarzenegger’s announcement by releasing a statement that reeled off many of their names. He depicted Schwarzenegger as little more than a name in the crowd.
“Today, one more name has been added to the long list of candidates in this recall election,” Smith said in a statement. “Arnold Schwarzenegger now joins a list that includes Darrell Issa, Bill Simon, Tom McClintock, two Huffingtons, Larry Flynt and even Angelyne. We expect many more names and far more rumors and we remind all Californians that this has been brought to you by millionaire Darrell Issa and Republicans bent on pushing their harmful agenda on California.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Contributing to the coverage of the recall campaign were Times staff writers Nick Anderson, Mark Z. Barabak, Jia-Rui Chong, Virginia Ellis, Li Fellers, Robin Fields, Michael Finnegan, Megan Garvey, Martha Groves, Jean Guccione, Carla Hall, Allison Hoffman, Peter Y. Hong, Carl Ingram, Gregg Jones, Eric Malnic, Hugo Martin, Joe Mathews, Dan Morain, Monte Morin, Peter Nicholas, Jean O. Pasco, David Pierson, Jeffrey L. Rabin, James Rainey, Kenneth Reich, Olga Rodriguez, Joel Rubin, Richard Simon, Doug Smith and Kenneth R. Weiss.
‘I will go to Sacramento and clean house.’
Arnold Schwarzenegger, announcing his bid for governor
‘Not only will he increase his fan base, he’ll clean up the mess Gray Davis made.’
George Perez, a moviegoer in Pasadena, on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s announcement
‘I think it’s important that we have people like Arnold and Arianna [Huffington] debating each other. One has a book to sell and one has a movie to sell.’
Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party
‘The question for Arnold, and for any Republican running, is whether he is going to take on the Bush administration and the policies that have so damaged the state.’
Arianna Huffington, political commentator and candidate
‘Nine months ago, 3.5 million Californians voted in a fair election to reelect Gov. Davis. I believe he should be given the opportunity to finish his term.’
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, announcing she would not run for governor
‘You’ve got a leading candidate deciding or not deciding on Leno. This is a society melting down into deliberate self-parody.’
Kevin Starr, the state librarian
‘This is the political equivalent of streaking: You show up, you run across the room naked and you get attention.’
Stan Oftelie, executive director, Orange County Business Council, on the scores of people who have taken out papers to run in the recall election