LOS ANGELES – He has been a genetically engineered twin and a pregnant man, a barbarian and a spy, a kindergarten cop and a killer. Now some Republicans are casting Arnold Schwarzenegger as the next governor of California.
Fresh from the Election Day success of a $550 million education measure that he sponsored, the actor has become perhaps California's most promising GOP candidate — even though he is not yet running for anything.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger would do a tremendous amount to reinvigorate the party itself and the image of the party to most Californians," said Brian Todd of Bakersfield, a delegate to state party conventions.
The body-builder-turned-action-hero deflects questions about his political ambitions, but many Republicans expect — and hope — he will run for governor in four years.
The Austrian-born actor considered seeking the nomination against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis this past year. Supporters launched a "T2 in '02" movement, and T-shirts with the slogan were snapped up at the party convention in February. But Schwarzenegger decided not to run, citing his contract to film Terminator 3, set for release next summer.
Instead, he drafted, funded and starred in TV commercials for Proposition 49, which dedicates as much as $550 million annually to before- and after-school programs. The measure passed by a wide margin earlier this month.
America's most successful actor-turned-politician, Ronald Reagan, blazed the trail a generation ago. Before becoming governor of California and then president, Reagan made the transition into politics as president of the Screen Actors' Guild and a spokesman for General Electric. Other celebrities who have switched to politics include former Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.
Schwarzenegger's name, wealth and potential to appeal to Democrats and moderates make him an attractive candidate in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 45 percent to 35 percent.
"It's pretty clear that right now Schwarzenegger is a strong early front-runner for the nomination," said GOP consultant Dan Schnur. "Proposition 49 was the first primary of the 2006 governor's race if Arnold Schwarzenegger wants it to be."
Schwarzenegger, 55, told The Associated Press: "To me it's a great honor to be considered for those kind of things. I think it's great people say, 'He's the ideal candidate' or 'He can win.' Obviously, it's much better if people say that than if they say the opposite. But I don't have a plan like that."
Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock was viewed as a potential rival in 2006, but he conceded defeat Monday in the state controller's race. The move gave Democrats control of all statewide offices for the first time since 1882.
If Schwarzenegger runs, he could have the advantage of a Democratic field divided among four or five of the Democrats' statewide officeholders.
Another Democrat mentioned as a contender has been actor-director Rob Reiner of All in the Family fame, raising the prospect of a Terminator vs. Meathead matchup. But Reiner associates say he has no plans to run.
There are obstacles between the Terminator and the Republican nomination. GOP primaries in California tend to favor conservative candidates, and Schwarzenegger describes himself as "very liberal" on social issues. He favors legalized abortion, some gun control measures and gay adoption. His wife, Kennedy cousin Maria Shriver, is a Democrat.
Republican insiders differ on whether the nomination is his for the taking.
"At this point for the Republican nomination, it would be a coronation," said GOP consultant Kevin Spillane, who helped run former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's losing campaign for governor. Riordan, a GOP moderate, lost the nomination to a conservative, Bill Simon.
"It's not going to be a coronation," said veteran GOP strategist Ken Khachigian. But he added: "If he makes the rounds and raises money, participates in the debate, lets us know where he is on issues over the next year and a half, obviously he has a great deal of name ID, and everything being equal, I think people would be interested in his running."
Schwarzenegger got a taste of the rough and tumble of politics last year, when a Davis strategist responded to his potential candidacy by bombarding newsroom fax machines with tabloid stories of alleged groping and womanizing by the actor.
Schwarzenegger is also responsible for hundreds of on-screen deaths and is shown smoking pot in Pumping Iron, the 1977 documentary about his bodybuilding days.
"None of those things have been an obstacle to me and I don't think any of the things will be an obstacle to me," he said. "I'm extremely proud of my background."