LOS ANGELES – Arnold Schwarzenegger's lone foray into state politics came last year, when he drafted and successfully championed Proposition 49 (search), a state ballot initiative aimed at dedicating as much as $550 million annually to before- and after-school programs.
Now, he's running for governor of California.
Already a worldwide film star, Schwarzenegger stepped onto a new stage Wednesday when he announced he would put his name on the ballot in the Oct. 7 election to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. It will be the former body-building champion's first run for elective office.
"I speak directly to the people, and I know that the people of California want to have better leadership," he told reporters after announcing his candidacy on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
Schwarzenegger's candidacy is sure to draw comparisons to Ronald Reagan, who parlayed his onscreen popularity and Screen Actors Guild (search) presidency into the California governorship. But unlike Reagan, who had been politically active before his candidacy, the Austrian-born Schwarzenegger is a political neophyte.
His celebrity status is no guarantee of success at the polls. He is a moderate Republican in a state where the Republican Party leadership is dominated by conservatives, though many analysts noted he is helped by being able to bypass a Republican primary in his run for governor due to the recall.
Even his allies say Schwarzenegger will have to convince voters he could do the job, and a recent poll confirmed that.
A Field Poll published July 16 showed Schwarzenegger was in second place when likely voters were asked to choose from six potential candidates. He was chosen by 15 percent of respondents, compared with 21 percent for former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, another moderate Republican. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.
Schwarzenegger's candidacy also 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 his desire to run was prompted by seeing California in a declining state, with an enormous budget deficit and rising fees and taxes. He would not be deterred by Davis allies attacking him, he vowed, adding, "I know that they're going to throw everything at me."
Last year's re-release of the film that first made him a star in the United States, the acclaimed 1977 documentary "Pumping Iron," 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.
When the film was re-released last November, Schwarzenegger said he supported leaving that scene in, telling The Associated Press (search) that to have taken it out would have compromised the filmmaker's vision.
"I did smoke a joint and I did inhale," he told the AP. "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.
Schwarzenegger earned about $30 million for "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," released last month, and is routinely listed in the $20 million club of A-list movie stars.
As he contemplated the run for governor, he was traveling the world promoting "Terminator 3." He also is considering several other movie roles, including an action comedy with Cedric the Entertainer called "Joe's Last Chance."
Although Schwarzenegger is unseasoned in politics and didn't lead in early statewide polls, he is considered a formidable contender because of his ability to draw international media attention, his personal wealth and his unbeatable name recognition.
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.
The daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and former vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver, Maria Shriver is keenly attuned to the risks of a life in politics. The couple also have four young children, ranging in age from 5 to 13.
Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that he and his wife discussed his future over the past few weeks and that she stood by his decision.
The actor is just the latest in a line of California entertainers to make the jump to politics.
Besides former President Reagan, who was California governor from 1966 to 1974, George Murphy, a popular actor in the 1930s and '40s, served in the U.S. Senate in the 1960s and '70s. "Dirty Harry" star Clint Eastwood served as mayor of Carmel from 1986 to 1988, and the late singer Sonny Bono was a U.S. congressman when he died in a skiing accident in 1998.