Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) kept them guessing all the way - and even told "Tonight Show" (search) host Jay Leno (search) that he was bowing out of the California governor's race just minutes before he jumped in before a nationwide TV audience, it was reported yesterday.

Before they went onstage, Leno asked Schwarzenegger how he planned to break the expected news that he wasn't running and the action hero murmured, "I am bowing out," Time magazine reports.

The Terminator's top strategist, George Gorton, was standing in the wings with a no-go press release and told Schwarzenegger how sorry he was that they'd never make the race when Ah-nold put an arm around his shoulder and said: "Let's go do it!" the report said.

But Gorton was so caught off-guard that it took him until after Leno's next commercial break to understand that Schwarzenegger wasn't kidding - he really was running.

The report helps explain the surprise on Leno's face when Schwarzenegger said he was running - the late-night comic visibly paused before he leaned over and shook Arnold's hand.

Schwarzenegger last week gave a clue to his keep-'em-guessing strategy when he told the "Today" show: "I think that the only way that you really keep it a secret is by not telling anyone."

Nor did he tell his pal, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (search), until after he'd told the world, according to Newsweek, which says Riordan was still expecting that Schwarzenegger would drop out and back him.

After the "Tonight" show bombshell, Schwarzenegger called Riordan to "just make sure you knew I was running" - and Riordan replied: "I heard."

Schwarzenegger, however, insists Riordan kept pushing him to run.

"Dick Riordan called me the night before [Leno] and said to me, 'Arnold, you're the best candidate. I want you to run . . . I want to work for you," Schwarzenegger told the "Today" show last week.

In either case, Riordan dropped plans to run for governor and quickly threw his support behind Schwarzenegger.