Arnold Schwarzenegger 2003 caricature infographic
Caricature shows movie star and would-be governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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Arnold Schwarzenegger 2003 caricature

August 20, 2003 - Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his first full-fledged campaign appearance, hosting a summit of economic and business heavyweights to discuss California's budget problems. October 7 -- California gubernatorial election.

One look at California’s gubernatorial race, and you could be forgiven for wondering whether the Golden State had gone crazy. Though the 135 candidates include a porn king and several minor figures from showbusiness, no one here is playing with a script. The question is whether this last fact could help Hollywood veteran Arnold Schwarzenegger to win.

Since declaring his candidacy on TV, Arnie has been a firm favourite among voters eager to ditch hapless Governor Gray Davis. In weekend polls the Austrian-born former Mr Universe narrowly trailed closest rival Cruz Bustamente in the race for the election on October 7. Announcing that he would stand, Schwarzenegger, 56, said the state was now too ruled by “special interests”.

Schwarzenegger, who is best known for the Terminator movies, has been derided often enough for his robotic screen presence and unreconstructed Austrian accent, but these characteristics have not stopped his career from enduring while fellow action heroes Bruce Willis and Sly Stallone have all but vanished into the Hollywood hills. So, what makes Arnie different? The truth is that Arnie’s best chance of becoming governor of California may lie in just being himself. Biographers have noted that his long journey from the remote Austrian village of Thal to the brink of political office in the United States has been defined by the same fierce willpower that first drove the 17-year-old Austrian across the Atlantic to seek his fortune.

That fortune owes its origins to endless hours in the gym. Schwarzenegger pumped himself, literally, into a larger than life presence while honing a fitness empire that has since expanded to include a Boeing 747 and large parts of Santa Monica. His first big movie break came with Terminator 1 in 1984, and he has just earned $30 million for the third one. Numerous other action movies bombed at the box office, but never quite blew up in Arnie’s face.

Politically, Arnie says he is a “compassionate conservative” in the mould of George W Bush, despite the fact that his wife, TV reporter Maria Shriver, is a niece of Democrat icon John F. Kennedy. He backs liberal causes such as gay rights and gun controls, but favours fiscal prudence. Dogged by claims about his father’s links with the Nazis, Schwarzenegger asked the Simon Wiesenthal Centre to determine whether he had committed atrocities. His father was cleared but the star still donates generously to the centre’s causes. A recent magazine interview drew accusations of sexism, but the father of four is largely thought of as a devoted family man.

Of course, showbusiness and politics have now overlapped to such an extent that it seems churlish to suggest there is anything absurd about Conan the Destroyer becoming governor of California. After all, Arnie’s starry past will certainly help him to cope with the media and he has already recruited actor Rob Lowe of the political satire “The West Wing” to his campaign.

In recent days, however, the all-action hero has been criticised for, well, lack of action. After his economic adviser Warren Buffett declared his support for lowering taxes, Arnie waited three days to issue a rebuff. His peculiar absence from the limelight has prompted speculation that he is either suffering from stage fright or preparing to make a huge entrance.

Nevertheless, Californians weary of a $38 billion budget deficit and collapsing public services will probably forgive the actor an occasional stumble. After all, Arnie is not a machine. And, even if he fails to storm the governor’s house in Sacramento, he will be back: there is always the chance of another Terminator movie. In real life, at least, the hero cannot self-destruct.

PUBLISHED: 19/8/2003; STORY: Joanna Griffin; PICTURES: Bob Hoare
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